Responses from the ECU

“Agree to disagree.” That’s what the boss of BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit think we should do about Holby City’s use of tropes and negative stereotypes of wlw.

Some of us have complained about the 15 January 2019 episode, the one in which Lola Griffin was shown to be having a one-night stand with her ex-husband while being involved with a woman. Colin Tregear, complaints director, ECU, offered to consider further comments in one case after the ECU found no breach of standards. This is the full response received subsequently:

Thank you for your email of 14 March and your comments on the Executive Complaints Unit’s finding. I have now watched the episode again and considered the further points you have made.

I should begin by saying I appreciate the genuine harm which was caused and my finding was not intended to dismiss or downplay the feelings of marginalisation you experienced. I understand the way the relationship between Serena and Bernie ended caused genuine offence to some lesbian and bisexual viewers and I can see how this subsequent storyline may have added to that offence.

However, I have to consider the extent to which the harm and/or offence which was caused went beyond what would be considered generally acceptable for a programme of this kind, taking account of the context, any editorial justification and the likely expectation of the audience. As you have pointed out, the BBC has a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2016-2020 which says “we must make sure we tell stories that people all across the country will recognise, will understand and will relate to”. It also published a Diversity Commissioning Code of Practice last year which said: The BBC’s output must mirror and promote different backgrounds, places, life experiences, languages and abilities. Putting these at the heart of our programmes and services will ensure we are relevant to all audiences and truly reflect a modern United Kingdom.

The Code refers to “authentic portrayal” and says content makers should “strive for authenticity in all incidental portrayal of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, geographical location, social class, religion and religious beliefs and disability for all role types, in line with our editorial guidelines”. I think it follows programme-makers should seek to avoid one-dimensional and stereotypical portrayals of LGBT people and their experiences; long-running series such as Holby City clearly have a part to play in achieving the BBC’s stated objectives.

However, I think we will have to agree to disagree over the extent to which the plot twist involving Lola’s sexual orientation can reasonably be considered to perpetuate a negative stereotype of bisexual women as promiscuous. Lola was presented as far more than a one-dimensional character and was certainly not defined by her sexual orientation or sexual behaviour. Viewers (and other characters) were led to assume she was heterosexual but would also have recognised she was a successful professional who was confident in her abilities, as well as being warm, caring, funny and flirtatious. It seems to me her behaviour was consistent with that personality and she was not portrayed solely as a bisexual woman.

I’m afraid I don’t share your impression the revelation at the end of the episode that she was in a same-sex relationship, while at the same time having had a one-night stand with her ex-husband, suggested lesbian or bisexual women in general are more promiscuous or less committed to relationships. I also can’t agree viewers with little experience of those who are lesbian/bisexual would assume the behaviour of a single character in a fiction drama was an accurate or authentic portrayal of all bisexual people. I appreciate you are likely to disagree with my finding but I hope I have been able to explain why I do not believe the way the storyline was presented led to a breach of the BBC’s editorial standards.

If you want to take your complaint further, you can ask the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, to consider your concerns.