Entertainment & Arts

EastEnders cleared over baby swap storyline

Samantha Womack as Ronnie Branning
Image caption EastEnders character Ronnie Branning was seen swapping babies in New Year episodes

EastEnders' controversial cot death and baby swap storyline has been cleared by media regulator Ofcom after thousands of complaints.

Ofcom received 1,044 complaints over the two New Year episodes which saw Ronnie Branning, played by Samantha Womack, swap her dead baby for the newborn son of Kat Moon.

The BBC also received 13,400 complaints over the course of the storyline.

But Ofcom ruled the scenes were not "unduly disturbing or graphic".

It added that considering the regular EastEnders audience, "the storyline would not have exceeded their expectations given that the soap is known for presenting a range of challenging and, at times, controversial issues".

The storyline - which drew the most complaints in the show's 25-year history - was criticised by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Sids) awareness campaigners.

Ofcom said viewers had complained the plot was "an inaccurate, insensitive and sensationalised portrayal" of cot death.

Others had commented it was "distressing" and "horrific" and had been inappropriately scheduled in a pre-watershed time slot.

Ofcom acknowledged that taken in isolation, the New Year's Eve episode was "clearly capable of causing offence", but ruled the BBC One soap was not in breach of rules when considering the full context of the four-month storyline.

The plot concluded when baby Tommy was returned to his natural mother and Ronnie was sent to prison for child abduction.

The regulator said as there were a number of events which led Ronnie to swap the baby, there was sufficient editorial context to justify the storyline.

It added it did not believe the storyline was intended to suggest Ronnie's actions were a typical response of a mother who had experienced Sids.

"Whilst the loss of baby James was a catalyst, Ronnie's reaction was born out of extreme personal trauma in her life and not as the direct and sole consequence of losing her baby." Ofcom said.

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