Ofcom has released a new paper exploring people’s attitudes to offensive language on television and radio.
It discovered that nowadays, viewers and listeners are more likely to tolerate swearing, providing it reflects “real world” situations and is set in the right context. However, they are less tolerant of racist or discriminatory words.
The broadcasting regulator looked at 144 words and 6 offensive physical gestures, to find out which were unacceptable, and why.
“We set and enforce rules to protect viewers and listeners from potentially harmful and offensive content on TV and radio. To do this, it’s essential that we keep up to date with what people find offensive, and what they expect of broadcasters,” explained Tony Close, Ofcom’s director of content standards licensing and enforcement.
“These findings will help us strike a balance between protecting audiences from unjustified offence, especially before the watershed, and allowing broadcasters to reflect the real world.”
Racist and discriminatory language was viewed as the most unacceptable overall, with those words viewed as derogatory, discriminatory and insulting.
Sexual terms were seen in a similar way to the stronger swear words and were viewed as distasteful and often unnecessary, but were more acceptable if used post watershed.
The research also looked at the method of bleeping out offensive language. Those questioned said that they could often understand which word was being substituted, so the effect was unnecessary.
When looking at radio, researchers found that offensive language was generally viewed as more problematic than on television.
Those questioned said they regarded radio as a “more intimate medium”.
The study used an online survey of 127 people, focus groups and in-depth interviews of 72 participants.