Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has ruled that scenes from a controversial EastEnders plotline were not “unduly disturbing or graphic”, despite the BBC receiving tens of thousands of complaints about it from viewers.
Twenty-three thousand people contacted the corporation earlier this year to protest about the “distressing” and “horrific” content – a reaction unprecedented in the soap’s 25-year history.
Meanwhile, over 1,000 complained to Ofcom following the broadcast of two new-year episodes of EastEnders, in which Ronnie Branning lost her baby to sudden infant death syndrome (Sids) and subsequently abducted Kat Moon’s newborn son to replace him.
But Ofcom’s report said that EastEnders’ writers had not intended to suggest that Ronnie’s behaviour was the typical response of a mother whose child had been a victim of Sids.
“Whilst the loss of baby James was a catalyst, Ronnie’s reaction was born out of extreme personal trauma in her life and not as the direct and sole consequence of losing her baby,” the report said.
And while the independent regulator admitted that certain scenes were “clearly capable of causing offence” if taken in isolation, it said that the EastEnders audience knew what to expect: “The storyline would not have exceeded their expectations given that the soap is known for presenting a range of challenging and, at times, controversial issues.”
However, actress Samantha Womack, who played Ronnie Branning, left the show soon after the storyline concluded, making it clear she had found the experience traumatic.
“It’s been the most horrific four weeks of my life,” she said at the time. “I couldn’t stop crying when we were filming the scenes where Ronnie finds her dead baby. I couldn’t switch off when I returned home each day.”