EastEnders has been reprimanded by media regulator Ofcom for a violent episode that featured the attack of a heavily pregnant woman, resulting in 78 complaints from viewers.
In the episode, which was broadcast in November last year, a gang attacked the Queen Vic pub, looking for an ex-member called Jase.
When Honey, played by actress Emma Barton, stepped in to intervene she was knocked over and went into premature labour. At the end of the programme, it was unclear whether her baby had survived the ordeal.
The BBC said there had been a gradual “build-up to this menacing storyline over several episodes” and that it had alerted viewers to its content with an announcement prior to the episode’s transmission.
It said a reprise of the closing scenes of the previous episode, which showed the gang gathering outside the pub, was included to ensure that viewers were fully alerted to the impending violence.
The BBC also claimed that the high level of complaint related to viewers’ suppositions about the possible outcome of the violence rather than to the violence itself.
However, Ofcom said the majority of complaints it received concerned the gang attack and the general level of violence. Out of 78 complaints received, only 13 viewers specifically mentioned the apparent death of Honey’s baby.
The regulator found that the BBC had broken its broadcasting code, which states “violence must be appropriately limited before the watershed and must be justified by context”.
Although EastEnders is not made specifically for children, Ofcom said it attracts a significant child audience and “any portrayal of violence needs to be carefully considered with this in mind”.
It added: “In Ofcom’s view, the violence was not appropriately limited for this time of the evening when many children are available to view television. Given the portrayal of the extended sequence in the pub and the sustained tone of intimidation and menace, which dominated a substantial part of this episode, we concluded that this episode was in breach.”