TV viewers do love to complain. At least, that’s according to Ofcom, who have released some fascinating statistics from the last decade spent moderating the UK’s broadcast television channels.
2019 has seen plenty of complaints made to Ofcom – sparked by incidents ranging from a Channel 4 documentary accused of being biased against cyclists to the sexualised content of the Pussycat Doll’s performance on the final of The X Factor: Celebrity.
But most of this year’s scandals pale in comparison when it comes to the number of complaints received for certain cases from across the decade as a whole.
Here’s a list of the 10 most controversial TV moments of the decades, according to Ofcom…
10. Sky News with Kay Burley, Sky News
5th June 2015 – 1,838 complaints
In the aftermath of the Alton Towers roller coaster crash, which seriously injured four people in 2015, Chief Executive of Merlin Entertainment Nick Varney appeared on Sky News for an interview with Kay Burley.
At one point, Varney refused to say whether or not one of the victims had lost a limb, and expressed his sympathies, to which Burley responded: “Why not? Sir, sir, I’m sure they are not interested in your sympathy at this stage.”
It’s an understandably sensitive topic, and nearly 2,000 people complained – but Ofcom said there was no grounds for an investigation into the news anchor’s interview style.
9. Big Brother, Channel 5
24th June 2015 – 2,024 complaints
The hit reality show received many complaints about bullying during its 2015 series, with most arriving after housemates Helen Wood and Marc O’Neill described fellow contestant Brian Belo as looking “like a murderer and a rapist.”
The offensive remarks led to Belo leaving the show after breaking down in tears in the diary room, calling Wood and O’Neill “bullies”.
Big Brother issued a warning to its housemates for the jibes, but Ofcom decided not to open a formal investigation.
8. The Wright Stuff, Channel 5
6th to 8th December 2011 – 2,358 complaints
Presenter Matthew Wright sparked outrage after an episode of his chat show The Wright Stuff, in which he appeared to mock the then-recent murder of Scottish teenager Liam Aitchison.
With news headlines reporting on the murder of Aitchison on the island of Lewis, Wright affected a Scottish accent and said, “there’s been another murder”, mimicking the catchphrase from detective series Taggart.
Wright subsequently apologised for his remarks, and sent a letter of apology to Aitchison’s parents.
7. Love Island, ITV2
1st July 2018 – 2,644 complaints
Dani Dyer came in for a nasty shock on the 2018 series of sun-soaked dating show Love Island, when it was revealed that her partner Jack Fincham’s ex-girlfriend had entered the programme.
Viewers were up in arms about the way the development was handled, which led Dani to believe that Jack had shown an interest in his ex, with some calling it “emotional manipulation”.
The 2,644 complaints the moment prompted might have given some indication of Dani’s popularity among Love Island fans – it came as no big surprise when she and Jack emerged from the series as winners.
6. Channel 4 News, Channel 4
29th March 2019 – 2,717 complaints
Veteran newscaster Jon Snow sparked nearly 3,000 complaints after making the remark during a pro-Brexit rally, “I’ve never seen so many white people in one place.”
The remarks were accused by some of being racist or offensive, but Channel 4 stood by their man, saying it was justified under the broadcasting code of “reflecting his observation that in a London demonstration of that size, ethnic minorities seemed to be significantly under-represented”.
He was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing by the Ofcom moderators.
5. The X Factor, ITV
11th December, 2010 – 2,868 complaints
Pop singers Rihanna and Christina Aguilera both gave performances on the final of The X Factor in 2010, and the raunchy dance moves and revealing outfits led to almost 3,000 complaints.
Because the series is broadcast in the early evening slot, the contention was that their skimpy get-ups were too sexually graphic for the many children who were watching.
4. Sky News
27th September 2018 – 3,463 complaints
The right wing activist known as Tommy Robinson (real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) was interviewed by Sky News in September 2018, and complained that the “disgusting” footage was edited to express political bias, and was a defamation of character.
Ofcom then received 3,463 complaints about the interview, but decided there was no grounds for an investigation. It had been reported around the time that most of the complaints had been lodged by Yaxley-Lennon’s right-wing supporters.
In the year since the interview, Yaxley-Lennon has served a term in prison for contempt of court, stemming from an unrelated incident.
3. UKIP: The First 100 Days, Channel 4
16th February 2015 – 6,187 complaints
This one-off mockumentary imagines a world in which UKIP won a General Election and ascended to power, as seen through the eyes of a fictional Asian MP, Deepa Kaur (played by Priyanga Burford).
The special attracted an exceptionally large number of complaints for electoral bias, although the Guardian reported that a “significant number” had been sent as part of a copy-and-paste email campaign organised by the far-right group Britain First.
UKIP: The First 100 Days failed to make much of an impression with audiences – those people outraged enough to write to Ofcom might have been some of the only ones watching.
2. Loose Women, ITV
29th August 2018 – 8,002 complaints
ITV chat show Loose Women received over 8,000 complaints for this 2018 episode, 7,912 of which pertained to the infamous argument between Celebrity Big Brother contestants Coleen Nolan and Kim Woodburn.
Having fought during their time in the House (Kim once called Coleen a “two-faced maggot”), they were brought onto Loose Women to bury the hatchet – but ending up swinging it.
Kim stormed offstage, calling her co-star “trash”, and saying she was being ganged up on by the show’s panel. Ofcom complaints were sent in support of both contestants, and the episode is remembered as a dark day for talk show civility.
1. Celebrity Big Brother, Channel 5
30th August to 1st September 2018 – 25,327 complaints
Coleen and Kim’s feud may have taken the no 2 spot, but Celebrity Big Brother blew all other TV out the water when it came to Ofcom complaints, with 25,327 complaints lodged about its 2018 scandal, dubbed “punchgate”.
Housemates Roxanne Pallett and Ryan Thomas (both soap stars) were at the centre of the scandal, which saw an inconsolable Roxanne accuse Ryan of physically assaulting her – only for it to be shown later that she had been grossly exaggerating.
Viewers were incensed, first at the substance of the allegations, then at the attempts to besmirch a man’s name. Roxanne was removed from the House, and Ryan ended up winning the series, but not before the complaints came rolling in en masse.