That’s a wrap: TV’s most complained about programmes of 2023 revealed
During 2023, audience complaints about standards on TV continued to make the headlines with news coverage of the Israel Gaza conflict, the Coronation of King Charles and celebrity on-screen spats featuring in our top 10.
For Ofcom, complaints are a vital barometer for how audiences think and feel. Over the course of the last year, we received 69,236 complaints about 9,638 cases. That’s nearly twice as many complaints as we dealt with in 2022 – although the two most complained about programmes of the year make up nearly a quarter of the total complaints.
Importantly, this number doesn’t include complaints about programmes on the BBC. Under the BBC Charter, these must be handled by the BBC in the first instance.
Almost one in ten complaints to Ofcom this year were about coverage of the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza which began in October. We play a crucial role in preserving the integrity of broadcast news and current affairs programming, by upholding standards of due impartiality and due accuracy. And so, complaints about this content – on a range of channels – are being prioritised by our team.
Protecting audiences from harm
Every other Monday sees the publication of our Broadcast Bulletin – the go-to source for details of new investigations, our decisions and listings of complaints about programmes that don’t raise issues under our rules.
In 2023, we published 23 Broadcast and On Demand Bulletins which announced 57 new broadcast standards investigations, as well the outcome of 46 investigations. We found a total of 35 programmes in breach of our broadcasting rules and are working to conclude the others as quickly as possible. We also published 15 adjudications on complaints from individuals and organisations that complained to us that they had been treated unfairly and/or had their privacy unwarrantably infringed in TV and radio programmes.
We also found GB News in breach of our rules on five occasions after our investigations found it broke our rules that protect audiences from harm twice and our due impartiality rules three times.
Shining a light on standards
Throughout the year, we have also published content to better explain more about our role and how our rules work – including around the rules relating to politicians presenting programmes and how people taking part in reality shows are protected.
We also clarified the importance of due impartiality in news and current affairs programming and explained how these rules are sometimes misunderstood. A common misconception is that due impartiality means “neutrality”. Or that it’s a mathematical construct whereby equal airtime must be given to all sides of a debate. Not so!
In February, our Director of Standards and Audience Protection Adam Baxter recorded a podcast with journalist and broadcaster Pandora Sykes and TV critic and broadcaster Scott Bryan and Ofcom’s. The wide-ranging conversation covered reality TV, freedom of expression, full-frontal nudity and everything in-between!
Also this year, we published research to better understand what audiences expect from different content on TV, and on-demand, and explored audience attitudes towards sex and violence on television.
In 2024, we’ll publish the results of our research into what audiences think about programmes which feature politicians as presenters.
Whatever the issue, channel or programme, every complaint matters to us. Viewers and listeners will always remain at the heart of what we do, and we consider each and every complaint we receive carefully. All broadcasters are treated equally and fairly and held to the same high standards that UK viewers and listeners expect and deserve.
We’re looking forward to another year of protecting audiences from harm and upholding the right to freedom of expression on your screens and airwaves. And with a General Election looming, ensuring that due impartiality is preserved and news is reported with due accuracy will be high on our priority list.
- Dan Wootton Tonight, GB News, 26 September 2023 – 8,867 complaints
Viewers objected to the misogynistic comments made by Laurence Fox about journalist Ava Evans.
Ofcom’s investigation of this programme under our rules on offence is ongoing.
- King Charles III: The Coronation, ITV1, 6 May 2023 – 8,421 complaints
The majority of complaints related to a comment made by actress Adjoa Andoh during the live broadcast, which focused on the appearance of the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
While we understand some viewers had strong feelings about this comment, after careful consideration we concluded that the comment was a personal observation which was part of a wide-ranging panel discussion which also touched on other diversity-related topics, and which contained a range of viewpoints. Our decision to not pursue these complaints further also took into account the right to freedom of expression.
- Good Morning Britain, ITV1, 17 October 2023 – 2,391 complaints
We carefully assessed complaints about the presenter’s line of questioning towards MP Layla Moran.
We considered his live, unscripted remarks were potentially offensive. However, taking the entire interview into account, and in particular a preceding discussion about Hamas using civilians as human shields, we considered the question sought to explore whether civilians were aware of a potential escalation in hostilities, rather than suggesting that Ms Moran or her family were aware of specific plans for the Hamas attack on 7 October 2023. In her response, Ms Moran spoke about her surprise at the scale and sophistication of the attack. In light of this, we will not be pursuing further.
- Jeremy Vine, Channel 5, 13 March 2023 – 2,302 complaints
We carefully considered complaints from viewers about a discussion on the junior doctors' pay dispute.
While we recognise that some references about progression timelines and corresponding pay-scales were not strictly accurate, we do not consider that the errors were sufficient to have materially misled viewers so as to cause harm.
- Breakfast with Kay Burley, Sky News, 23 November 2023 – 1,880 complaints
We carefully considered complaints about the presenter’s line of questioning during an interview with Israeli spokesperson, Eylon Levy.
Taking account of Mr Levy’s forceful challenge to the premise of the question about the value of Israeli versus Palestinian lives, and the context of the wider discussion about the terms of the temporary ceasefire, we will not be pursuing further.
- Lee Anderson’s Real World, GB News, 29 September 2023 – 1,697 complaints
Complaints related to Lee Anderson’s interview with Suella Braverman, on the grounds that they are both Conservative MPs.
We published our assessment of this programme which found that it included an appropriately wide range of significant views on immigration and border control which were given due weight.
- Breakfast with Kay Burley, Sky News, 10 October 2023 – 1,640 complaints
Complainants alleged Kay Burley misrepresented comments made by the Palestinian ambassador.
We are assessing the complaints, before we decide whether or not to investigate.
- Naked Education, Channel 4, 4 April 2023 – 1,285 complaints
We understand that some viewers were concerned about this programme, which included pre-watershed nudity.
In our view, the programme had a clear educational focus, and the young participants reflected positively on their involvement. We also took into account that there were warnings to the audience before the programme aired.
Channel 4 also provided information to Ofcom about the protections it had in place for the welfare and dignity of participants aged under 18.
- This Morning, ITV, 18 December 2023, 1,092 complaints
- Love Island, ITV2, 9 July 2023 – 992 complaints
Complaints related to comments made by Vanessa Feltz about coeliac disease.
We are assessing the complaints, before we decide whether or not to investigate.
The majority of complaints about this episode related to bullying against Scott.
We carefully assessed complaints about this series on a range of issues including alleged bullying, homophobia and racism.
We recognise that emotionally charged or confrontational scenes can upset some viewers. But, in our view, negative behaviour in the villa was not shown in a positive light. We also took into account that the format of this reality show is well-established and viewers would expect to see highs and lows as couples’ relationships are tested.
Viewers also complained about a contestant being voted off and returning to the programme, but this was an editorial decision for the broadcaster.