As the 2010s draw to a close, communications watchdog Ofcom has published the ten television programmes that drew the most complaints from viewers over the last ten years.
More than 25,000 people complained about last year’s Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5, when Roxanne Pallett allegedly assaulted fellow housemate Ryan Thomas. The episode accounted for around half of all broadcasting complaints in 2018, making it by far the most complained-about programme of the past ten years.
Behind it was an episode of Loose Women on ITV, also from last year, which drew almost 8,000 complaints about an interview with guest Kim Woodburn. The rest of the list is dominated by reality shows and news programmes, including one episode of Channel 4 News from March this year when presenter Jon Snow said, after a day of rallies and protests relating to Brexit, that he had “never seen so many white people in one place”.
Half of the listed programmes were broadcast in the past two years, with only two shows from the first half of the decade making the list - when ITV's The X Factor generated 2,868 complaints that performances by Rihanna and Christina Aguilera were too explicit for broadcast before the 9pm watershed and 2,358 complained that Matthew Wright and a guest made insensitive and inappropriate comments when discussing a newspaper article regarding the first murder case in the Hebrides for 40 years.
This year, Ofcom assessed almost 28,000 complaints from TV and radio audiences, and reviewed almost 7,000 hours of programmes. It launched 121 investigations, and found broadcasting rules were broken in 55 cases.
Tony Close, Ofcom's director of content standards, said: "Overwhelmingly, the most contentious programmes of the 2010s were either reality shows – like Love Island, Big Brother and The X-Factor – or news and current affairs. One important reason might be the rise of social media over the decade. We know people like to discuss reality shows online. And in a time of political change, social media has also shaped increasingly passionate debate around news coverage.
"While the overall volume of complaints we receive about a programme is certainly a good indicator that it needs examining, it’s not necessarily a sign that broadcasting rules have been broken. For example, shows with large audiences often generate more complaints because more people are watching. And we don’t need to receive any complaints to step in if a programme breaks our rules."
He added: "If we find a broadcaster in breach of our rules, we might also provide them with guidance or require them to put things right – for example, by changing their processes or broadcasting a summary of our decision. We can also issue fines. When the breach is extremely serious, we can take a channel’s licence away. In recent years, for example, Ofcom has revoked two broadcasting licences because of concerns around hate speech."