Today’s viewers and listeners are less tolerant than ever before of discriminatory or racist language, Ofcom research claims.
People also say they are more likely to tolerate swearing on TV and radio provided it reflects real world situations and is set in the ‘right’ context.
The findings are from new research on people’s attitudes towards potentially offensive language and gestures in broadcasting, the biggest study of its kind carried out by Ofcom.
The research used a mixture of focus groups, in-depth interviews, online surveys and discussions involving people from around the UK. It looked at 144 words, exploring what people were likely to find unacceptable, and the reasons why certain words were judged to be offensive.
For the first time the research also included six offensive physical gestures and included some newer and more obscure language than when Ofcom last examined this area in 2010.
The research found that viewers and listeners take into account context, such as the tone, delivery and time of broadcast, when assessing whether offensive language is acceptable. People says they are more likely to tolerate some swearing if it reflects what they would expect to see in real world situations.
Clear racist and discriminatory language was the most unacceptable overall. Such words were viewed as derogatory, discriminatory and insulting. Many were concerned about them being used at any time, unless they were particularly justified by the context. Many said that discriminatory and racist words were harder hitting, carrying more emotional impact than general swear words.
Sexual terms were seen in a similar way to the stronger general swear words. They were viewed as distasteful and often unnecessary, but people said they found them more acceptable if used after the watershed, when they would be more prepared.
Occasional, accidental strong language before 9pm was seen as more acceptable on live TV and radio than in pre-recorded material. People agreed it was sometimes hard for broadcasters to control live programmes, but they were less accepting if they felt broadcasters had acted carelessly or deliberately.
Swearing substitutes, and the bleeping-out of offensive language, were viewed as less acceptable when used frequently. The research found that most people would often understand which word was being substituted, and so the effect was similar to using the actual word being used, especially if it was repeated.
Tony Close, Ofcom’s Director of Content Standards Licensing and Enforcement, said:
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.
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.
…And lets not forget that oh so important sound bite from Mediawatch-UK. Sam Burnett, of the morality campaign group said:
Ofcom is remarkably out of touch with the viewing public. This is just the latest signal of the declining standards on our screens.