Question of the week: how much notice should broadcasters take of complaints?

In case you didn’t know, the Daily Mail has strongly objected to some of the scenes in the first episode of the second series of Sherlock, namely the ones involving nudity and some implied royal lesbian BDSM. No, it wasn’t complaining that you couldn’t see anything good in either scene. It was outraged that those scenes were transmitted before ‘the watershed’, when innocent kiddies could theoretically be watching.

So far the BBC’s response can be characterised as "Pardon?", since it plans on keeping the scenes in an even earlier repeat showing.

Now the BBC does get some pretty stupid complaints but this got me thinking, and maybe it’ll get you thinking, too.

How much notice should broadcasters take of complaints? Should broadcasters stick to their artistic guns and best judgement and ignore what people say or if they’re funded by public money, should they be obliged to take notice of even stupid complaints.

Should the BBC have told everyone who complained about Jeremy Clarkson’s joke/’joke’ about shooting strikers in front of their families to go away in a biological manner? Or was it wrong to let him speak at all? And are our opinions influenced by our politics – if it’s an opinion we agree with, do we let it slide, even if it’s potentially as offensive to those we disagree with as anything they come up with?

Answers below or on your own blog, please.




  • Mark Carroll

    I assume the BBC is given some sort of mission statement. (Does it include “educate” any more?) Presumably, though “entertain” might be in the eye of the beholder, a good start would be to see to what extent the offensive material helped push those goals forward, or not.
    Certainly there’s a lot to be said for diversity: a BBC that offended nobody would be rather dull. It’s difficult to tell what governance to suggest, given how, while we want the BBC to be ultimately accountable to the public, we don’t want to be too beholden to politicians. Certainly some hard-headed judgment calls are needed, though it has to be careful not to typically be too far ahead of its time. While I don’t think the BBC’s job is ratings-chasing, if they are pleasing most of the people most of the time, and nearly all of the people some of the time, I shouldn’t think they should have to worry too much, and when they’re not it’s certainly worth looking at consensus among complaints to see why not. Sorry to be a bit vague.
    I’d be fine with a stronger sense of “watershed”, though. Adults can easily stay up later, or record stuff. We’re fairly liberal with what our kids know how soon, but I can appreciate parents wanting to not to have to be.
    And, while I think some hard-headedness is necessary, for accountability I think it’s also important to make public some overview of what kinds of complaints have been received about what.

  • Mark Carroll

    I assume the BBC is given some sort of mission statement. (Does it include “educate” any more?) Presumably, though “entertain” might be in the eye of the beholder, a good start would be to see to what extent the offensive material helped push those goals forward, or not.
    Certainly there’s a lot to be said for diversity: a BBC that offended nobody would be rather dull. It’s difficult to tell what governance to suggest, given how, while we want the BBC to be ultimately accountable to the public, we don’t want to be too beholden to politicians. Certainly some hard-headed judgment calls are needed, though it has to be careful not to typically be too far ahead of its time. While I don’t think the BBC’s job is ratings-chasing, if they are pleasing most of the people most of the time, and nearly all of the people some of the time, I shouldn’t think they should have to worry too much, and when they’re not it’s certainly worth looking at consensus among complaints to see why not. Sorry to be a bit vague.
    I’d be fine with a stronger sense of “watershed”, though. Adults can easily stay up later, or record stuff. We’re fairly liberal with what our kids know how soon, but I can appreciate parents wanting to not to have to be.
    And, while I think some hard-headedness is necessary, for accountability I think it’s also important to make public some overview of what kinds of complaints have been received about what.

  • A friend of mine has access to the complaints that the BBC get on a daily basis and says that an awful lot of them are just rants about gay presenters (such as ‘the deviant Claire Balding’ as she’s referred to by a serial complainant), too many ethnic minority faces on children’s TV and newsreaders wearing inappropraite ties.
    And Clarkson of course. Always Clarkson.

  • Gareth Williams

    This was a terrible piece of (not even) journalism.
    Type Sherlock in to Twitter search.
    Scroll through all the positive tweets about the programme, and ignore.
    Find three, yes three, tweets complaining about a naked thigh.
    Check calendar, yup still 1953.
    Check editorial bias is still anti-public sector BBC.
    Write slanted article using staple Daily Mail words like shocked and outraged.
    Submit article to editor and hope your anti-BBC story is chosen as that day’s anti-BBC story.
    Return home.
    Stare at self in mirror for three hours and cry yourself to sleep.
    Repeat.

  • Me, I’m always with Voltaire, I hate what you say, but I defend your right to say it. Personally, I think too many people are offended too easily these days. The Jeremy Clarkson thing was a case in point. I didn’t watch it at the time, but in the context, it was clearly a joke and he made the shooting strikers comments AFTER he’d said something vaguely supporting the strikes, as joke to provide balance. The woman from the unions who spent the next day bleating on about it was a twit and just made herself look idiotic. A far better response would have been in my brave new world Jeremy Clarkson and the Chipping Norton set would be first up against the wall. I’m all for people not being racist, homophobic etc, but I think we need a little more robustness about distinguishing between jokes of dubious taste and hate crimes.
    If the type of complaints the Beeb get are anything like the nutty ones I used to get about peddling horror to children when I edited teen fiction, I’d say most of them should be ignored. You will always get people who will be offended and I would suggest that it is part of public broadcasting company’s remit to cause offence occasionally. However, if there is a CLEAR case of huge offence being caused, and the person concerned is oblivious to a line being crossed, then note perhaps should be taken. For an eg from the newspaper world, look how the Sun is still viewed in Liverpool since Hillsborough. Some things are offensive to the majority. Most, however aren’t, and everyone should be a bit more bloody grown up about it.
    As to Sherlock causing offence. We watched it as a family (kids now 15,13,11, 9), and while I winced a bit in the beginning at the dominatrix stuff, and wondered whether we would have to field awkward questions, in the end I think Steven Moffat handled it pretty cleverly, to the extent that the 9 and 11 year old didn’t notice anything untoward, and I have a feeling the S&M references went over the older two’s heads. (Not that I’ve asked them! Best left alone I think:-)) The nudity was very very funny, and to be fair, Sherlock was nude nearly as much as Irene was. The Daily Mail has got it wrong. This was fabulous family entertainment of an exceptionally high quality. We loved it.

  • SK

    They should act quickly and promptly to address the complaints I agree with (which for clarity I shall call ‘areas of concern’) while dismissing out of hand any made by those whose holding opinions I do not share (who thereby have shown themselves not our sort of people, and therefore not worth listening to until they learn better).

  • I like Gareth’s comment here which I think sums up most of the problems.
    For me: the watershed is increasingly meaningless but that does not mean it should be it’s a free-for-all. As Jane says, Moff handled the nudity well and I am sure there were far more hearts racing about BC in a good way than in any kind of negative way. Done well, it should not matter, and the news will inevitably have disturbing stuff on it (on a related note, why do broadcasters repeatedly refer to ‘this story contains images/details that some viewers/listeners may find disturbing’…? I would think anyone who does NOT find such stuff disturbing has bigger problems to deal with. How about viewers/listeners SHOULD find this stuff disturbing?)
    Anyway. Should the BBC take notice of complaints? In that context, they’d have never shown “Jerry Springer: The Opera” which was actually a great piece of work, clever and funny about all sorts of things that were not the issue of complaint. The Clarkson issue is more tricky – yes in context he was clearly doing what he is paid to do: be ‘controversial’. He was rising to the bait (as he is wont to do) and duly created a storm. I had more problems with his ‘jokes’ about bodies on trainlines. Then again he is so patently a dickhead I’m not sure why anyone would take notice of him; and then again he’s such a dickhead I really do not know what the BBC wants to keep paying him such vast sums of money…
    The public money issue is meaningless: if something is plain old wrong, correct it asap. If it is just “I disagree with you’ stuff, then move along.