Gritty realism after the 9pm watershed is one thing but harrowing and insensitive sensationalism in family viewing time is not.

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I was having a cupcake and a chat with my 16 year old daughter in the new local coffee shop in Lingfield when this article caught our eye in The Daily Express  about the highly controversial story line in Eastenders on BBC1 about cot death, bereavement, mental illness and post natal depression.

I have always used the News, the telly or my own life to talk to both of my kids (one of each) about life, so Molly and I discussed cot death or Sudden Infant Death, my own Mum’s 3 miscarriages and the impact and responsibility of the media to handle story lines with integrity.

I was interviewed this week by a journalist about this subject and have left some comments on other people’s blogs, particularly the enjoyable Living With Kids blog by Liz Jarvis.

I have been dismayed by the way the BBC have handled this extremely sensitive and harrowing emotional experience. Of course if it helps families talk openly about these issues or seek help then it has value but its choice of timing smacks of ratings.

I don’t usually watch Eastenders but my Mother – in – law likes it so we all sat down to watch …… my 16 year old daughter was very distressed by it and feels it isn’t very realistic, educational or entertaining.

Cot death and post natal depression are very important issues for people to discuss but this approach by the BBC is rather offensive and insensitive and has done nothing to genuinely help parents affected by this distressing personal trauma.

Here is the article from The Daily Express – what are your thoughts?

“WHOEVER thought swapping a dead baby for a live one would make “good TV” needs help because they’ve either got no sense of decency or a screw loose. This time EastEnders has really lost the plot.

Gritty realism after the 9pm watershed is one thing but harrowing and insensitive sensationalism in family viewing time is not what we buy our licences for. EastEnders has scraped the bottom of many barrels over the years with its violence, coarse language and obsession with sex but now it has plumbed the ultimate depths. It is without doubt the nastiest, tawdriest, most degrading soap in TV history.

The tragedy is that so many people feel drawn to watch it: an estimated 11 million over Christmas. If you have children it’s almost impossible to reach for the off-switch because for many youngsters EastEnders is the main topic of conversation on Facebook, in texts and at school next day.

What gives the BBC the right to invade our homes with squalor and misery in the name of entertainment? I’ve read their pathetic excuses a hundred times: they say EastEnders is popular because its plots touch viewers’ everyday lives. 

But how often does your everyday life involve murder, prostitution, incest, rape, paedophilia, homosexual affairs, torture, gang fights, drug addiction, alcoholism or armed robbery?

All of these sordid topics have been screened by the BBC whenever the ratings war with ITV demands a few even more shocking episodes.

The tawdry toll is so long you can be forgiven for having forgotten the worst excesses. Let me remind you what goes out before the kids are in bed…

Incest: Dying mother Barbara Owen enjoys a passionate deathbed kiss with her son before crudely licking her lips.
Violence: Little Mo is forced to eat off the floor before being beaten and raped by husband Trevor. In one episode she hits him over the head with an iron.

Sex: Teenagers Carly Wicks and Jake Moon tear at each other’s clothes and have sex on a nightclub floor.

Paedophilia: Bianca’s boyfriend Tony (just out of prison, naturally) grooms her 15-year-old stepdaughter Whitney for underage sex. They kiss passionately and fall on a bed.

Murder: Pentecostal pastor Lucas Johnson murders two people then chains his wife up in the cellar.

Domestic violence: Denise Fox stabs Owen Turner with a fork after she is dragged up a flight of stairs by her hair.

Torture: Heavily pregnant Dawn Swann is chained to a bed by her lover’s GP wife, who wields a scalpel and threatens to cut out the baby.

Prostitution: Janine Butcher sells herself so she can buy drugs and is then shown about to snort cocaine. And don’t forget teenage punk Mary Smith being turned to vice by Pat Wicks.

Drugs: Phil’s addiction to crack cocaine reduces him to squalor and amid violent scenes he burns down the Queen Vic.

Horror: Max Branning is buried alive by his wife Tanya because of his affair with his daughter-in-law Stacey (she is married to Bradley, the one who killed himself by jumping off the roof of the Vic because he was suspected of murdering Archie, who had raped Stacey and made her pregnant).

Had enough of these happy families? I know I have and I haven’t even started to go through all the murders, mayhem, suicides, thieving and teenage pregnancies.

However, just when I thought EastEnders can’t sink any lower, it does. Exploiting the grief of two mothers – one whose baby has died in its cot and another who thinks it’s her baby that has died – is sick. Worse, the bereaved mother is portrayed as an immoral madwoman when in fact she deserves sympathy.

Actress Samantha Womack, who plays Ronnie Branning, handed in her notice around the time she received the script for the harrowing New Year’s Eve episode. Many have saluted her integrity for walking away from the show even though her agent denies her departure has anything to do with the plot.

TV presenter Anne Diamond, who lost her son to cot death in 1991, says the BBC could have done a public service if the death had been handled sensitively and alerted parents to an issue which is often misunderstood.

Anne spearheaded the campaign that helped cut UK cot deaths from 2,000 a year to 300. But now she says: “This crass twist to an otherwise credible storyline hasn’t done one iota of good in educating a young audience about cot death.
“It has upset a lot of mums and dads who have been through the worst nightmare a parent can endure and stayed sane, sensible and responsible.”

EastEnders’ excesses have forced Corrie and Emmerdale to sink to its level so that parents squirm with embarrassment as the Street’s teenage lesbians Sophie and Sian make love in prime time and Emmerdale’s Ryan and Maisie have an incestuous relationship.

Whenever the BBC defends its pampered and privileged existence at the taxpayers’ expense it pretends that public service broadcasting must be subsidised to maintain its supposedly high standards over commercial TV.

The outrageousness of EastEnders has ensured that argument can never be used again.”

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About the author

Sue Atkins is a Parenting Expert who offers practical guidance for bringing up happy, confident, well behaved children. She is also the author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” one in the  famous black and yellow series published worldwide and the highly acclaimed Parenting Made Easy CDs. She regularly appears on BBC Breakfast and The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 and her parenting articles are published all over the world.

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