Ofcom boss Adam Baxter has defended the regulatory body’s ruling over Piers Morgan’s Good Morning Britain rant.
The outspoken broadcaster’s comments about Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle topped the organisation’s list of most-complained about programmes in 2021 with 54,595 complaints.
Reflecting on the case during a review of the year as a whole, Ofcom’s director for Standards and Audience Protection wrote: ‘The judgments we make each day are often finely balanced – such as our highest profile case this year: Piers Morgan’s comments on Good Morning Britain in the wake of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.
‘But, given the importance of the right to freedom of expression, we only step in or take action against a broadcaster when we consider it necessary.
‘This year we concluded 33 investigations and recorded 20 breaches of our rules. Many of these cases were about hate speech or harmful, scientifically unfounded Coronavirus misinformation.’
Responding to the news on Twitter, Piers later tweeted: ‘Delighted to have perpetrated the most complained about moment on UK TV for 2021…. especially because every single one of the absurd complaints was rejected.
Thanks Princess Pinocchio!’
Earlier this year, Piers quit GMB after a huge number of complaints were made about remarks he made concerning the Duchess’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, when she discussed her mental health and previously suffering from suicidal thoughts.
After Meghan made a formal complaint to Ofcom, Piers was later cleared by the watchdog, after it concluded that he did not breach the broadcasting code.
Meanwhile, the Oprah interview itself is at number four in the body’s rankings for 2021, having received 6,486 complaints.
Love Island appeared twice in the top five, with over 24,900 complaints over ‘Faye’s behaviour towards Teddy’, with another 4,337 made over the Casa Amor postcard.
Ofcom’s most-complaint about programmes in 2021
- Good Morning Britain (March 8) – Piers’ comments about Meghan and Harry’s Oprah chat (54,595 complaints)
- Love Island (August 6) – Faye’s behaviour towards Teddy (24,921)
- Celebrities: What’s happened to your face? – Remarks made on the appearances of a number of stars on the programme (7,125)
- Oprah with Meghan and Harry (March 8) – Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview (6,486)
- Love Island (July 28) – Delivery of a postcard from Casa Amor (4,337)
- Lorraine (December 4) – Dr Hilary Jones’ comments on number of unvaccinated people in hospital, comments under assessment (3,769)
- Good Morning Britain (March 9) – Variety of issues including Piers Morgan asking Charlotte Hawkins to stand and show viewers her skirt, and his discussions with Alex Beresford (3,249)
- Good Morning Britain (November 1) – Dr Hilary Jones criticises fake coronavirus information leaflet before Richard Madeley tears it up (2,632)
- Good Morning Britain (June 1) – Debate entitled Ditching unvaccinated friends? (2,104)
- This Morning (February 26) – Segment called How to lose the Lockdown Pounds (1,942)
Over 7,100 viewers took issue with Channel 5 programme Celebrities: What’s happened to your face, while Lorraine and This Morning both appeared in the top 10, with Good Morning Britain receiving and total of 7,985 across three further episodes besides Piers’ comments about the Oprah interview.
Baxter revealed this year has broken records for complaints about television and radio programmes, with a massive increase on 2020.
He wrote: ‘2021 has been a record year for TV and radio complaints to our broadcasting standards team.
‘They’ve topped 150,000 – an increase of 124% on last year.’
BBC figures were not included in the tally because they’re dealt with by the broadcaster ‘in the first instance’, but the corporation’s coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh in April drew 110,000 complaints within a week – the highest number ever published in the UK about television programming.
He noted that the ‘lion’s share’ of the complaints have been made about a ‘relatively small number of TV shows’, while pointing to social media and ‘its influence on complaints figures’.
But he added: ‘High numbers of complaints don’t automatically mean our rules have been broken. And there is no absolute right not to be offended by things we see and hear on TV and radio.
‘Consistent with the right to freedom of expression, broadcasters can include potentially offensive material in their programmes, providing they put it into context and provide adequate protection to audiences.’
What is Ofcom and what does it cover?
Ofcom is the regulator for the communications services that we use and rely on each day.
The watchdog makes sure people get the best from their broadband, home phone and mobile services, as well as keeping an eye on TV and radio.
Ofcom deals with most content on television, radio and video-on-demand services, including the BBC. However, if your complaint is about something you saw or heard in a BBC programme, you may need to complain to the BBC first.
Its rules for television and radio programmes are set out in the Broadcasting Code.
The rules in the Broadcasting Code also apply to the BBC iPlayer.
This Broadcasting Code is the rule book that broadcasters have to follow and it covers a number of areas, including; protecting the under-18s, protecting audiences from harmful and/or offensive material and ensuring that news, in whatever form, is reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.
Audiences can complain to Ofcom if they believe a breach of the Broadcasting Code has been made.
Every time Ofcom receives a complaint from a viewer or listener, they assess it to see if it needs further investigation.
If Ofcom decide to investigate, they will include the case in a list of new investigations, published in the Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin.
An investigation is a formal process which can take some time depending on the complexity of the issues involved.
Ofcom can also launch investigations in the absence of a complaint from a viewer or listener.