BBC Radio 4, 4pm 25 April 2012
The BBC Radio 4 series Thinking Allowed explores the latest research into how society works and discusses current ideas on how we live today. Presenter Laurie Taylor is a former Professor of Sociology at the University of York.
The complainant objected to a grossly offensive play on words in this edition of Thinking Allowed. The host, Laurie Taylor, read out an email from an audience member which used the term cox sackers . This referred to an item the previous week of the sacking of a cox from a rowing team. The complainant believed that most listeners would have interpreted this as an offensive term and it was unsuitable to be transmitted in a programme broadcast at 4pm when children may be listening.
The complaints was previously dismissed by the programme team and then the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU), but this decision was appealed to the Editorial Standards Committee (ESC).
TheEditorial Standards Committee considered that the phrase cox sackers was intended to be a play-on- words and if the words had been articulated clearly, the phrase would have been within the expectation of the programme’s audience. However, having listened carefully to the pronunciation of the phrase, the Committee believed the phrase was not articulated clearly enough and could easily have been misheard for the offensive word cocksuckers by the majority of the audience. On this point, the Committee agreed with the programme team that the words should have been enunciated rather more clearly and noted their apology to the complainant at Stage 1.
Having concluded there was a strong likelihood that the audience would have misheard the phrase, the Committee noted that the word cocksuckers is considered to be a seriously offensive word across all audience groups. On this basis, the Committee considered that in this type of programme, where there would be little expectation of strong language, the pronunciation of cox sackers in this broadcast would exceed generally accepted standards. The Committee believed that the word cocksuckers , due to its offensive nature, was inappropriate within the context of this programme at any time of day. The Committee noted that the particular pronunciation of the phrase cox sackers , which the Committee had concluded was highly likely to have been misheard by a significant part of the audience as cocksuckers , was broadcast at around 4.15pm. Although the Committee took into account that very few children listen to Radio 4, the Committee was concerned that the content was broadcast at a time when a significant number of children are available to listen to the radio and are more likely to be travelling in cars where Radio 4 might be on during the school run . Having regard to the Editorial Guidelines on Harm and Offence, the Committee concluded that the programme was in breach of those Guidelines. The BBC is required to apply generally accepted standards so as to provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion of offensive material. As it was highly likely that a significant part of the audience misheard the pronunciation of the phrase cox sackers and believed that a seriously offensive word had been used in its place, the content was in breach of the Guidelines. The Committee wished to apologise for any offence caused by this broadcast.
The Committee agreed that it did not expect this segment to be featured in any repeat broadcast of this programme. ‘
Finding: Complaint upheld.