Letter of complaint to the BBC

Eastenders Credit: BBC

Following thousands of posts on Mumsnet to complain about the cot death and subsequent 'baby swap' storyline in EastEnders (which began airing at the end of December 2010), we decided to send a letter to the BBC.

STOP PRESS: BBC response (07.01.11)

Dear Justine,

Thank you for your letter which Mark Thompson has asked me to respond to.

Firstly, I would like to thank you for your feedback and insight into how Mumsnet members are responding to the current EastEnders storyline. It is without doubt a very challenging and emotional story and one that has had a deep impact on many of those who have been watching it.

"I would like to assure you that on the issue of the baby swap, the show is absolutely not suggesting that this behaviour is typical of a mother who has suffered such a terrible and tragic loss." Jana Bennett, BBC


I would like to assure you that on the issue of the baby swap, the show is absolutely not suggesting that this behaviour is typical of a mother who has suffered such a terrible and tragic loss. Taking Kat's baby is the action of a character in great distress due to a series of events that have befallen her in the last 18 months. It is the culmination of these that has driven her to this one moment of madness rather than as a direct result of the loss of her baby.

As the narrative unfolds viewers will see Ronnie struggle to come to terms with what she has done until the story line is fully resolved early in the spring. It is also worth saying that in the telling of this story, the issues of grief caused by the loss of a child and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome more generally are sensitively handled. EastEnders has a long history of tackling difficult issues in a way that allows viewers to learn and debate the topic at hand. The increase in traffic to the Foundation for the Study of Infant deaths website of more than 500% shows what an important subject this is.

If you and your team would like to come to EastEnders to meet the show makers to discuss this storyline further you would be very welcome. I think it could be a very useful chance to exchange views and feedback on the subject. And on a final note, Executive Producer Bryan Kirkwood has said he would be happy to participate in a web chat to discuss this and any other aspects relating to the show.

Yours sincerely

Jana Bennett
Director, BBC Vision

 

Mumsnet's letter to the BBC (05.01.11)

Following thousands of posts on Mumsnet to complain about the cot death and subsequent 'baby swap' storyline in EastEnders, we decided to send a letter to the BBC. (The programme was aired at the end of 2010 and the letter sent on January 5 2010.) 

To: Mark Thompson, Director General, BBC
CC: Ed Richards, Chief Executive, OFCOM
CC: Bryan Kirkwood, Executive Producer, EastEnders

Dear Mark,

It's very rare to find an issue on which there is almost complete unanimity on the Mumsnet Talk boards and so it is striking, and indeed heartbreaking, to see such consensus in the 1000s of posts on our website about the lack of understanding shown by EastEnders' writers and producers over the recent cot death and in particular the subsequent 'baby swap' story.

The focus of the complaint is the swapping story line. Our members are concerned that, as is all too common, a bereaved mother has been portrayed as deranged and unhinged. In fact the reality is very different. As one member said "It is testament to our strength and self control that bereaved parents are largely invisible. You wouldn't know us if we passed you in the street. If anything we are more compassionate and aware because we would not wish the loss of a child on our worst enemy."

Many bereaved mothers reported on Mumsnet that people are frightened of their grief and wary of their reactions to other babies. For many, EastEnders might be their first or closest experience of a newly bereaved mother's reaction and subsequently they may treat baby snatching as a typical desire. Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost universally the bereaved mothers on Mumsnet have said: "I wanted my baby, no-one else's" and many have struggled to hold, look at or even be near other newborns.

Full comments from Mumsnetters on this storyline can be read here and here.

Our members are not naïve or seeking a world where TV does not cover the painful issues faced by too many parents. They are simply asking for difficult issues, such as cot death, to be tackled with intelligence and sensitivity.

Mumsnetters are also frustrated that so much potential to raise awareness of SIDS and to show viewers what it is like for bereaved parents and their families and friends has been squandered.

The approach shown by the programme makers appears at best to be ill-informed, and at worst looks like a cynical ploy to make headlines by creating deliberate controversy.

"Our members are not naïve or seeking a world where TV does not cover the painful issues faced by too many parents. They are simply asking for difficult issues, such as cot death, to be tackled with intelligence and sensitivity." Justine Roberts, Founder and CEO, Mumsnet

The BBC's stated mission is "To enrich people's lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain."

It is difficult to see how this storyline meets your mission statement in any way.

We urge you to consider the views we're sharing with you today future storylines are developed and would be very happy to host a webchat at a time convenient for you, for a fuller discussion on this issue with our community.

Yours sincerely,

Justine Roberts
Founder and CEO, Mumsnet

 

Last updated: 07-Jan-2011 at 12:21 PM