Ofcom receives 160 complaints over ITV2 airing of 'Contagion' during coronavirus pandemic

Jennifer Ehle in 2011 thriller 'Contagion'. (Credit: Warner Bros)
Jennifer Ehle in 2011 thriller 'Contagion'. (Credit: Warner Bros)

ITV’s decision to show pandemic movie Contagion in the midst of the coronavirus crisis divided British TV viewers — and triggered 160 complaints to broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

Some social media users declared the network’s decision to be a “genius move”, while others said it was in “poor taste” given the severity of the crisis.

Read more: Movies getting an early digital release

The 2011 thriller, directed by Steven Soderbergh, has been a constant presence on movie rental charts since the coronavirus outbreak began and is experiencing a newfound popularity.

ITV2 aired the movie in a primetime slot from 9pm on Thursday, just an hour after Britain — including the cast of the James Bond franchise — united in a nationwide applause for NHS workers fighting the coronavirus.

Jude Law in Steven Soderbergh thriller 'Contagion'. (Credit: Warner Bros)
Jude Law in Steven Soderbergh thriller 'Contagion'. (Credit: Warner Bros)

Written by Scott Z. Burns, the meticulously researched thriller follows the spread of a global pandemic, the breakdown in social order as a result and the eventual discovery of a vaccine.

Burns consulted extensively with numerous medical experts, including epidemiology professor Ian Lipkin, who himself tested positive for coronavirus this week.

Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice

Live: Follow all the latest updates from the UK and around the world

Fact-checker: The number of COVID-19 cases in your local area

Explained: Symptoms, latest advice and how it compares to the flu

Many viewers, including a nurse, claimed that ITV’s scheduling decision was insensitive and irresponsible given the seriousness of the global health emergency.

Several users also tagged broadcast regulator Ofcom in their tweets and suggested they would like to complain about ITV.

A spokeswoman for the regulator confirmed to Yahoo Movies UK that 160 complaints have been received.

For several ITV viewers, though, Contagion was a perfect choice to communicate the importance of government advice and the danger posed by the virus.

Earlier this month, Burns spoke out about the Trump administration’s measures with regards to the spread of the virus.

He told Slate: “You can’t build a fire department once your house is on fire.”

Read more: Movies that mirrored real-life events

The writer, who turned director with last year’s political drama The Report, added he was sadly not surprised to see the movie adopt a new relevance.

He said: “The scientists I spoke to, and there were a lot of them, all said that this was a matter of when, not if.

“So, I guess my feeling as someone who believes in science is that when scientists tell us those things we would do well to listen.”