Shortly after Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II passed away last Friday, the BBC cut its schedule to cover its television channels and radio stations all afternoon and night.
When popular shows went off the air – including the Friday episode of EastEnders, a soap opera that has aired since 1985, and the final episode of MasterChef, a cooking contest show – expressions of displeasure flooded the BBC. To be precise, 109,741 complaints were received, the BBC said on Thursday, making it the most complained moment in BBC history.
As a UK public broadcaster, the BBC has a prominent position in the UK media and it is difficult to fund it through a license fee. It is often attacked for being too liberal and too conservative, while its access to public funds is controlled by the government, which is currently a Conservative government.
The BBC tries to reflect the mood of the nation, but recently, after Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, a heated debate erupted over the role of the royal family.
Too little coverage of tributes to the Duke and the BBC would have run the risk of not properly respecting his life. Even so, the station received so many online complaints that it set up a streamlined process on Friday – a special online form – that people could use to register their disappointment with the scope of their coverage.
The BBC said Thursday that the Duke of Edinburgh’s death “was a momentous event that generated great interest both nationally and internationally” and that the decision to change the schedule was made with careful consideration of what “the role of the BBC reflects “as a national broadcaster in moments of national importance. “
Two commercial broadcasters took different approaches. ITV, like the BBC, reportedly saw a sharp drop in viewership last Friday due to many hours of coverage of Prince Philip. Kanal 4 had special programming, but gave viewers a break by broadcasting a popular program called “Gogglebox” at 9pm, which broadcasts television viewers.
On Saturday, the BBC and ITV will broadcast the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, which will not be open to the public due to pandemic restrictions.