Carry On Jerry Springer

 by Martin Belam, 8 January 2005

So this week the public protest against the planned BBC Two broadcast of Jerry Springer - The Opera has built to a crescendo - and according to the BBC's internal news service yesterday a vicar burnt his television licence during the protests outside Television Centre.

Myself I'm agnostic about it*. I was walking between Covent Garden and Oxford Street on Thursday, passing the Cambridge Theatre where the play is actually on, and of course there wasn't a hint of a protest outside the theatre itself.

I can't help but admire the way the campaign has been organised though. You only have to look at the numerous threads on the Points of View message board to see the way that the circular email has been written to really compel people to protest. Time and time again users have posted their complaint about the play "depicting the Lord Jesus, Mary and God as self-centred sexual deviants who give and receive extreme verbal abuse".

Screengrabs of threads on the BBC's Points of View message board protesting about Jerry Springer The Opera being shown on BBC Two, all using the same words

It is at times like this the Points of View message board comes into its own - the BBC Two site is no more than a homepage and listings, as the show isn't made by the BBC we don't have a genre site for it, and the BBC News "Have Your Say" section relies on the email-and-publish methodology, which means you don't get a full blooded debate. For every person on Points Of View complaining passionately against the showing, there seems to be a person equally wanting to defend the BBC's decision to broadcast. Some of the threads have started to veer into flame-war territory, but there are some threads which contain hundreds of posts and a really active debate. There really isn't anywhere else on where this could happen.

One of the great advantages of the electronic communication age is the ease with which we can be put in touch with each other. It also poses a massive challenge to organisations like the BBC to cope with the influx of communication. To get annoyed enough to complain to the BBC you used to have to either write a letter and pay for a stamp, or pay for a phone call. Now the majority of the UK population can reach us by pressing the send button on their email client or service of choice. As the barrier to entry of protest lessens, the volume we receive increases.

Shortly we are launching a new area of to handle and receive complaints about the BBC from the audience. As a system we need it to cope with the "background radiation" level of correspondence that the BBC receives. We also need it to cope with the peaks as well. According to the press OFCOM have received more pre-transmission complaints about Jerry Springer - The Opera than any programme before, and it is well reported that the BBC is receiving a large number of complaints by phone and email.

So we are seeing some pretty peaky traffic, and I know there is a job to do next week where we look at the volumes of email we have received pre, and presumably also, post-transmission, and work out if the new system would have coped.

*I'll get my coat....


"To get annoyed used to have for a stamp, or pay for a phone call. Now [you] can reach us by pressing the send button on their email client..."

Personally I think some barrier of entry to complain isn't such a bad thing. As you highlight, it's easy to cut-and-paste messages, and massive organized e-mail campaigns are becoming much more common, and sometimes even have an effect.

As well as no longer needing to expend money or time to complain, these bulk campaigns mean you no longer need to think either.

In my opinion, of course.

Tch. That's called spam and is against the house rules.

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