LONDON – The BBC received a record-breaking number of complaints following its extensive coverage of Prince Philip’s death, with more than 110,000 people contacting the broadcaster to grumble over changes to scheduled programming and “excessive” reporting on his life and legacy.
According to British media, the outpouring of criticism makes his death the most-complained-about event in the country’s television history, with the wave of backlash forcing the BBC to temporarily build a dedicated complaints page where people could object to the programming.
Philip, also known as the Duke of Edinburgh, husband to reigning British monarch Queen Elizabeth II “passed away peacefully” on Friday at Windsor Castle – where he had been staying amid the coronavirus pandemic. Following the news of his death, the BBC revised its schedule to make way for tributes, pulling popular television shows such as “Gardeners’ World” and postponing the “MasterChef” final.
The BBC defended its coverage, saying it was “proud of the role we play during moments of national significance,” but it did not disclose the precise number of complaints received. Official figures are expected to be published this week on the broadcaster’s biweekly complaint log.
While the broadcaster has since removed the dedicated complaints page, which read: “We’re receiving complaints about too much TV coverage of the death of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,” it did not go unnoticed.
“The BBC, having adopted wall-to-wall Prince Philip coverage to avoid being criticized in parts of the media and politics…. has now received so many complaints about their wall-to-wall coverage they’ve set up a streamlined form to complain about it,” tweeted Guardian Media Editor Jim Waterson.
While much of the nation – and the world – paid tribute to the duke and mourned his death, the BBC’s decision to dedicate so much airtime to royal programming angered “MasterChef” fans, who had been looking forward to seeing who would be crowned winner of the popular cooking competition.
Many on social media pointed out that the same coverage of the duke was running on two BBC channels simultaneously, noting that one channel dedicated to coverage would have been a better idea.
According to the Guardian, the record-holder for highest total of complaints until now came in 2005, when the BBC televised controversial musical “Jerry Springer: The Opera” – much to the displeasure of Christian groups who said they were offended by scenes that depicted dancers dressed as Ku Klux Klan members and a confrontation between Satan and a diaper-wearing Jesus.
A total of 63,000 complaints were logged about the opera, with the Daily Mail claiming at the time that the show contained 8,000 swear words.
The broadcaster is not the only company to face criticism following the duke’s death. As Britain’s Network Rail and National Rail websites went “dark” to commemorate the 99-year-old, visually impaired customers complained they were no longer able to book travel tickets or view train timetables due to the newly implemented grayscale design.
“As someone who is registered severely sight impaired, good colour contrast on a website is incredibly important,” explained Robin Spinks of the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
Both services issued statements following the backlash, saying the tributes had been “temporary” and that they were listening to customer feedback to improve accessibility so that content is more inclusive.