BBC receives 109,741 complaints over Prince Philip coverage

·5 min read
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh
Millions of people watched coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh's death on Friday

The BBC has confirmed it received 109,741 complaints from the public over its coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh's death.

The corporation cleared its schedules to cover the news when Prince Philip died on Friday, at the age of 99.

EastEnders and the MasterChef final were replaced by news programmes, while BBC Four was taken off air completely.

The BBC said it was "a significant event which generated a lot of interest both nationally and internationally".

It added: "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 corporation's fortnightly complaints report was published on Thursday.

The figure makes the coverage of Prince Philip's death the most complained-about piece of programming in BBC history.

BBC One moved the MasterChef final to 14 April, so viewers were then able to find out who had won the amateur cookery series hosted by Gregg Wallace and John Torode.

Other programmes that have previously attracted a high volume of correspondence included the broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera, which received 63,000 complaints in 2005; and Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand's prank call to actor Andrew Sachs, which drew 42,000 complaints in 2008.

The BBC was not alone in adjusting its schedule to reflect Prince Philip's death, with ITV and Channel 4 both broadcasting extended news coverage.

However, many viewers turned away as the day wore on, with ITV's Friday night audience declining by 60% in comparison to the previous week, according to overnight figures.

Analysis box by David Sillito, Media and arts correspondent
Analysis box by David Sillito, Media and arts correspondent

For a significant number of viewers, replacing the final of MasterChef with programming celebrating the life of Prince Philip was the wrong decision. Quite how many would have complained if the BBC had done the opposite is the unanswered question.

What is also interesting is how many older viewers have complained. Traditional "linear" TV has been a reliable friend during months of lockdown, and while younger viewers have embraced streaming around 20 million of us are still watching at peak time each evening. Schedules, even in an age of YouTube, iPlayer and Netflix, still matter.

It is also worth mentioning that, in these days of online complaints forms, it is rather easier to register a complaint than it was in the era of trying to get through to the BBC switchboard. Indeed, some people contacted the BBC to complain that the BBC was making it too easy to complain.

BBC One's audience also dropped six per cent week-on-week during the coverage about Prince Philip, while BBC Two lost two-thirds of its audience, with just 340,000 people tuning in at any time between 7pm and 11pm.

The most-watched programme on a single channel that evening was Channel 4's Gogglebox, with 4.2 million viewers.

The BBC put a dedicated form on its website later that evening to allow viewers to complain about the TV coverage, in recognition of the volume of complaints.

The form was removed the following afternoon, after the number of complaints began to fall, the corporation said.

Broadcaster Andrew Marr has also apologised for a phrase he used about the Duke of Edinburgh while speaking on the BBC News Channel, which angered some viewers.

The BBC said: "When reflecting on the life of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Andrew Marr gave his analysis of Prince Philip's role within the monarchy and relationship with the Queen. While doing this, Andrew made a remark which he accepts was poorly phrased, for which he apologises."

Prince Philip
Prince Philip

The BBC also said it received complaints from viewers who "feel it's inappropriate for Prince Andrew to feature in our news coverage".

The corporation responded by saying: "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."

Funeral coverage

Prince Philip's funeral will be held at St George's Chapel, in the grounds of Windsor Castle, at 15:00 BST on Saturday 17 April. The procession and funeral will be televised and the BBC has published its broadcast plans for its coverage.

It will devote coverage on BBC One to the funeral between 12:30 BST and 16:20 BST and BBC Two will broadcast a special programme fronted by Huw Edwards at 20:10 GMT.

During the day, BBC Two will air alternative programming such as Saturday Kitchen and Football Focus.

BBC One is also carrying news bulletins either side of the programming, as well as a programme on Saturday morning called The Duke: In His Own Words at 11:00 GMT.

On 16 April, BBC One will show HRH The Duke of Edinburgh Remembered between 19:00 GMT and 20:05 GMT.

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