The BBC received so many complaints about its wall-to-wall coverage of Prince Philip’s death that it set up a dedicated complaints form on its website.
The broadcaster suspended its planned scheduling across BBC One and BBC Two to air special coverage after the duke died yesterday, aged 99.
“We’re receiving complaints about too much TV coverage of the death of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,” read a statement on the BBC Complaints page, which has since been taken down.
In an earlier statement, it said there would be “special coverage across all BBC networks to mark his life of extraordinary public service”, with planned scheduling suspended.
Shortly after news of Prince Philip’s death broke at noon, the BBC swiftly cleared its entire schedule up to 6pm.
Later in the day, primetime programmes like Masterchef and Gardeners’ World were also postponed to make way for news specials and tributes to the 99-year-old duke.
BBC Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live also aired special programming charting Prince Philip’s life, while BBC Four was paused and displayed a message directing viewers to switch over for a “major news report”.
‘Surely the public deserve a choice of programming?’
Some have seen the broadcaster’s actions as a necessary mark of respect.
But for others, it was a bit much.
Simon McCoy, a long-time BBC presenter who recently left the network, said on Twitter: “I know this is a huge event. But surely the public deserve a choice of programming?”
He did add: “The BBC’s coverage was exemplary, don’t misquote me.”
BBC1 and BBC2 showing the same thing. And presumably the News Channel too. Why? I know this is a huge event. But surely the public deserve a choice of programming?
— Simon McCoy (@SimonMcCoyTV) April 9, 2021
Audience figures dented by coverage
According to figures from Deadline, BBC One’s viewership dipped 6% compared to the previous Friday evening.
BBC Two’s audience was down by two-thirds.
ITV also ripped up its schedule to make way for tributes to Prince Philip, but saw its audience numbers fall by 60%.
Channel 4 aired a news special, an in-depth obituary and extended its flagship news programme in the wake of the announcement.
It returned to its regular programming in the evening.
The channel’s head of news Louisa Compton explained: “Channel 4 also has a duty to offer an alternative to other channels, hence a return to schedule.”
Today on Channel 4 we broadcast a 30 minute news special shortly after the Duke of Edinburgh's death was announced; an in-depth obituary at 4pm and there'll be an extended @Channel4News at 7. C4 also has a duty to offer an alternative to other channels hence a return to schedule.
— Louisa Compton (@louisa_compton) April 9, 2021
Did 2002 backlash affect programming decision?
The publicly-funded BBC regularly finds itself coming under fire from all sides for its treatment of major national events.
When the Queen Mother died in 2002, presenter Peter Sissons was criticised because he did not wear a black tie to deliver the news.
Scrutiny about its role has grown in recent years. The rise of streaming services like Netflix, which have offered viewers more choice, are seen as a major reason why.
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