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'EastEnders' cleared by Ofcom over baby swap plot

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Ronnie Mitchell in EastEnders

© BBC

EastEnders' controversial baby swap storyline featuring Ronnie Branning and Kat Moon has today been cleared by Ofcom.

In its latest broadcast bulletin, the regulator has confirmed that it received a total of 1,044 complaints from viewers over the dark plot, which saw Ronnie lose her newborn son James to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) before swapping him with Kat Moon's healthy child Tommy.

Ofcom noted that many of the complaints came from viewers who felt the storyline had presented the baby swap "in an offensive manner" because it "appeared to suggest that a mother who has suddenly and tragically lost a baby through cot death would react by stealing another baby to replace that loss".

Other complainants were concerned over the scheduling of the baby swap episodes, which transmitted in pre-watershed timeslots on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

However, in its ruling, Ofcom decided that EastEnders was not in breach of the broadcasting code.

Responding to suggestions that Ronnie's actions were presented as typical of a bereaved mother, the regulator argued that a number of other factors had clearly contributed towards her terrible decision, including "losing the daughter she had been forced to give up for adoption at 14, her desperation to have a baby and the tragedy she had experienced when she had miscarried, and the recent revelation of sexual abuse by her father".

Kat Slater from EastEnders
The watchdog added: "Ofcom also noted that there was another 'bereaved' mother involved in the storyline, the character Kat, who believed it was her baby who had died of SIDS. The broadcaster did not present her reaction to the sudden loss of her baby in the same way as Ronnie.

"The storyline presented her grief, disbelief and anger and the temporary breakdown of her relationship as well as her gradual coming to terms with her loss and the efforts to re-build her life following the tragedy. This underlined the fact to viewers that 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.

"It is Ofcom's view that the broadcaster did not intend the storyline to suggest that her actions were a typical response of a mother who had experienced SIDS and therefore sufficient editorial context was provided to viewers."

Ofcom also stated that the scenes in question "were not unduly disturbing or graphic", while extensive pre-publicity surrounding the storyline ensured the plot "was brought to viewers' attention before the broadcast so viewers could choose whether this was an appropriate programme to view with children and on New Year's Eve".

EastEnders brought the baby swap plot to a close in April when Ronnie handed baby Tommy back to Kat and Alfie after deciding to do the right thing. Her final scenes aired last month as Ronnie was jailed for her crime.

> Read more EastEnders news and spoilers

Watch a clip from the tragic baby plot in the video below:

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