BBC coverage of death of Philip Windsor breaks UK TV complaints record

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The BBC’s coverage of the death of the duke of Edinburgh has drawn 110,000 complaints, the highest number ever published in the UK about television programming.

Philip Windsor died at Windsor Castle on 9 April at the age of 99, prompting the corporation to clear its schedules across both BBC One and BBC Two to run a series of mirrored special programmes.

The coverage also took over the news channel and BBC radio stations.

Journalist Martine Croxall announced the news on the BBC (BBC/PA)

According to the BBC’s fortnightly complaints bulletin, some 104,010 people complained about the coverage within the first three days.

At time of publication on 15 April, the overall total was 109,741.

Read on...

Public broadcasting?

The BBC said in a statement:

The passing of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was a significant event which generated a lot of interest both nationally and internationally.

We acknowledge some viewers were unhappy with the level of coverage given and impact this had on the billed TV and radio schedules.

We do not make such changes without careful consideration and the decisions made reflect the role the BBC plays as the national broadcaster during moments of national significance.

We are grateful for all feedback and we always listen to the response from our audiences.

The number is believed to be a record for complaints in British television history. Some 63,000 people complained about the BBC’s screening of Jerry Springer: The Musical in 2005.

After the duke’s death on 9 April, viewers tuning into BBC Four were greeted with a message urging them to switch over for a “major news report” while BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5 Live also aired programmes about the duke.

The rolling news coverage meant the final of MasterChef was postponed and EastEnders was also delayed.

The broadcaster set up a dedicated webpage for viewers to lodge their dissatisfaction at its coverage after it cleared its schedules to cover Windsor’s death.

More things to complain about

The BBC also received complaints from viewers about the inclusion of prince Andrew in its coverage despite his association with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. One of Epstein’s alleged victims says that she was forced to have sex with Andrew while under the age of consent. Andrew was pictured with his arm around the woman in question.

Andrew stepped down from royal duties over the scandal in 2019. Since then, American authorities have accused Andrew of not cooperating with their investigations into Epstein.

The BBC defended his inclusion:

All of Prince Philip’s children gave a tribute to their father following his passing, which we have covered in our news programming.

“We have fully reported on the allegations against Prince Andrew and we have also made it clear that he has not been charged with any crime. We consider we have appropriately covered his comments.

In March, Piers Morgan’s comments on Good Morning Britain about the Meghan Markle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey drew a record number of complaints for TV regulator Ofcom.

Episodes of the ITV breakfast show on 8 and 9 March sparked more than 57,000 complaints.

It later emerged that Markle had made a formal complaint to the watchdog about the TV host after he dismissed her account of suffering suicidal thoughts and experiencing racism at the hands of the royal family.

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