• Ofcom publishes most complained-about shows of the 2010sofcom

An episode of last year’s Celebrity Big Brother was the most complained-about TV show of the decade, new Ofcom figures reveal.

As the 2010s draw to a close, Ofcom has published1 the ten television programmes that drew the most complaints from viewers over the last ten years.

More than 25,000 people complained about last year’s Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5, when Roxanne Pallett alleged assault by fellow housemate Ryan Thomas. The episode accounted for around half of all broadcasting complaints in 2018, making it by far the most complained-about programme of the decade.

Behind it was an episode of Loose Women on ITV, also from last year, which drew almost 8,000 complaints about an interview with guest Kim Woodburn.The rest of the list is dominated by reality shows and news programmes.

Ofcom comments on the findings

Tony Close, Ofcom’s Director of Content Standards, commented on the findings in a blog post today. He explains:

People expect particular standards from TV and radio shows. Quite rightly, they feel passionately about programmes and want to have their say.

Ofcom’s job is to hear those views and protect the public from harmful and offensive content.

Overwhelmingly, the most contentious programmes of the 2010s were either reality shows – like Love Island, Big Brother and The X-Factor – or news and current affairs.

Why is that? One important reason might be the rise of social media over the decade. We know people like to discuss reality shows online. And in a time of political change, social media has also shaped increasingly passionate debate around news coverage.

While the overall volume of complaints we receive about a programme is certainly a good indicator that it needs examining, it’s not necessarily a sign that broadcasting rules have been broken. For example, shows with large audiences often generate more complaints because more people are watching. And we don’t need to receive any complaints to step in if a programme breaks our rules.

When we consider complaints, we take into account a range of factors. We think about generally-accepted standards, and what viewers or listeners might expect from a particular programme.

We examine the context that content was presented in – including the type of programme, the channel it was on and the time of broadcast. We look at who was likely to be watching or listening, and how the content was explained to people to help them understand it and decide whether to stay tuned in.

And importantly, we take into account broadcasters’ freedom of expression – and the rights of audiences to receive a range of ideas and information without unnecessary interference. Often, that means striking a careful balance in our decisions.

If we find a broadcaster in breach of our rules, we might also provide them with guidance or require them to put things right – for example, by changing their processes or broadcasting a summary of our decision. We can also issue fines.

When the breach is extremely serious, we can take a channel’s licence away. In recent years, for example, Ofcom has revoked two broadcasting licences because of concerns around hate speech.

Securing standards on TV and radio

Viewers and listeners can complain to Ofcom about content on the TV, radio and video-on-demand services we regulate.

Complaints can be submitted by phone, online or by post, and each is carefully assessed against our broadcasting rules.

This year, Ofcom assessed almost 28,000 complaints from TV and radio audiences, and reviewed almost 7,000 hours of programmes. We launched 121 investigations, and found our broadcasting rules were broken in 55 cases.


 Most complained-about shows of the decade

  1. Celebrity Big Brother, Channel 5 – 30, 31 August, 1 September 201825,327 complaints about the incident involving Roxanne and Ryan (30, 31 August and 1 September). Broadcast Bulletin 373 (PDF, 1.6 MB).
  2. Loose Women, ITV – 29 August 20188,002 complaints (of which 7,912 related to an interview with guest Kim Woodburn which resulted in her walking off set). Broadcast Bulletin 373 (PDF, 1.6 MB).
  3. UKIP: The First 100 days, Channel 4 – 16 February 20156,187 complaints of which the majority were that the portrayal of UKIP was misleading, offensive and biased. Broadcast Bulletin 279 (PDF, 872.9 KB).
  4. Sky News – 27 September 20183,463 viewers alleged bias and defamation of character in the editing of Sky News’ interview with Tommy Robinson.   Broadcast Bulletin 365 (PDF, 1.2 MB).
  5. The X Factor, ITV – 11 December 20102,868 complaints that performances by Rihanna and Christina Aguilera were too explicit for broadcast before the 9pm watershed. Broadcast Bulletin 180. Broadcast Bulletin 180 (PDF, 1.1 MB).
  6. Channel 4 News, Channel 4 – 29 March 20192,717 complaints when presenter Jon Snow said, after a day of rallies and protests relating to Brexit, that he had “never seen so many white people in one place”. Broadcast Bulletin 384 (PDF, 761.7 KB).
  7. Love Island, ITV2 – 1 July 20182,644 viewers raised concerns about emotional distress to contestants, specifically Dani Dyer becoming distressed after a clip was shown to her of boyfriend, Jack, with his former partner. Broadcast Bulletin 358 (PDF, 1.1 MB).
  8. The Wright Stuff, Channel 5 – 6, 7, 8 December 20112,358 complaints that Matthew Wright and a guest made insensitive and inappropriate comments when discussing an article in the Daily Mail regarding the first murder case in the Hebrides for 40 years. Broadcast Bulletin 200 (PDF, 835.0 KB).
  9. Big Brother, Channel 5 – 24 June 20152,024 complaints about comments made by contestants. Broadcast Bulletin 283 (PDF, 1.0 MB).
  10. Sky News with Kay Burley, Sky News – 5 June 2015
    1,838 complaints about the tone of Kay Burley interviewing Chief Executive of Merlin Entertainment, Nick Varney, in the aftermath of the Alton Towers roller coaster crash. Broadcast Bulletin 281 (PDF, 855.9 KB).

Most complained-about shows of 2019 only

  1. Channel 4 News, Channel 4 – 29 March 20192,717 complaints when presenter Jon Snow said, after a day of rallies and protests relating to Brexit, that he had “never seen so many white people in one place”. Broadcast Bulletin 384 (PDF, 761.7 KB).
  2. Good Morning Britain, ITV – 11 September 2019955 complaints from viewers who felt that the presenter’s comments ridiculed gender identity issues. We reminded ITV that strong views on issues such as sex or gender reassignment should be presented with care. Broadcast Bulletin 390 (PDF, 579.8 KB).
  3. The X Factor: Celebrity Final, ITV – 30 November 2019802 viewers objected to a sexualised performance by the Pussycat Dolls. Ofcom is currently assessing these complaints.
  4. Love Island, ITV2 – 14 June 2019726 complaints, of which 709 were about the ‘predatory behaviour’ of contestant Maura. Broadcast Bulletin 382 (PDF, 694.9 KB).
  5. Love Island, ITV2 – 16 June 2019700 viewers raised concerns about the treatment of one of the contestants, Lucy, by her partner and others. Broadcast Bulletin 383 (PDF, 1.3 MB).
  6. All Out Politics, Sky News – 31 October 2019524 viewers complained that comments made about Islam and Muslims by Lord Pearson during an interview were potentially offensive. Ofcom is currently investigating whether this breached our rules on offence.
  7. Cyclists: Scourge of the Streets, Channel 4 – 9 July 2019Ofcom received complaints from 366 viewers that the programme and its title were biased against cyclists. Broadcast Bulletin 383 (PDF, 1.3 MB).
  8. Dancing on Ice, ITV – 20 January 2019328 complaints in total. 193 viewers objected to Gemma Collins’ behaviour towards the judges. 135 viewers complained that, in the same episode, the judges and presenters bullied Gemma Collins. Broadcast Bulletin 372 (PDF, 1.8 MB).
  9. Love Island, ITV2 – 25 June 2019298 complaints, of which 288 were about the behaviour of contestants and its effect on others. Broadcast Bulletin 383 (PDF, 1.3 MB).
  10. Britain’s Got Talent, ITV – 27 May 2019

278 complaints in total. This included 214 complaints that an act was inappropriate for a family audience; and 56 complaints about Amanda Holden’s use of an offensive word. Broadcast Bulletin 390 (PDF, 611.8 KB) and Broadcast Bulletin 383 (PDF, 1.3 MB).