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.
Love Island is an ITV2 reality programme in which a group of young single people look for romance while staying in a luxury villa.
Ofcom received seven complaints about the episode broadcast on 30 June 2016 at 21:00. Viewers objected to a scene in which housemates Emma and Terry had sex. This was broadcast shortly after the watershed.
The individual housemates got into bed with their partners. The lights in the communal bedroom were turned off and the following images were shown in the form of footage taken using night vision cameras:
Emma and Terry in bed together and kissing, with their upper bodies visible above the duvet (with Emma wearing a slip);
Emma and Terry looking at each other in medium close up;
a wide shot from behind of Emma as the duvet slipped from her shoulders down to her lower back, which indicated that under the duvet she was straddling Terry;
a series of three brief close-ups of Emma’s back and shoulders as the couple had sex; and
a shot from behind of Emma pulling the duvet back up over her shoulders afterwards.
These shots were interspersed with images of the shocked reactions of the other housemates in the villa's bedroom while Emma and Terry had sex, as well as interview footage of them afterwards recounting their view of what had
Ofcom considered rules:
Rule 1.6: The transmission to more adult material must not be unduly abrupt at the watershed…For television, the strongest material should appear later in the schedule.
Rule 2.3 In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context…Such material may include, but is not limited to…sex…Appropriate information should also be
broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence.
Ofcom Decision: Not in Breach of Rules 1.6 and 2.3
We noted that Love Island is a relatively well-established reality show format and that this episode formed part of the programme's second series (which began on 30 May 2016). The series focuses on the romantic entanglements of a group of young single
people, and we recognised that sexual activity between housemates had occurred in this and the previous series, and is often a key element of the programme's ongoing narratives.
We took account of other specific contextual factors that we considered reduced the explicitness and overall sexual tone of the material. In particular, we observed that the images of the sexual activity were recorded using night vision cameras so that
they were in monochrome and relatively indistinct, and the shots of Emma straddling Terry while they were having sex were very brief (approximately six seconds in total duration). We also noted that none of this sexual activity was shown in any explicit
way: the couple were covered by a duvet below the waist and Emma was wearing a slip throughout, and there were no images of full nudity during these scenes. We considered that the use of music, and the intercutting of the shots of Emma and Terry with the
housemates’ reactions, lightened the tone and further reduced the potential impact on viewers of the sequence. We also took account of the clear warning before the programme that alerted viewers to “scenes of a sexual nature”.
Ofcom had regard to the fact that the programme was broadcast on ITV2, a channel that is aimed at a young adult audience. In light of this, much of this channel’s postwatershed schedule includes reality programmes as well as films and comedies targeted
at adults. We therefore considered it likely the audience would have a greater expectation for content potentially unsuitable for children to be shown shortly after the watershed on this channel, compared to the audience for the main ITV public service
We also noted that this episode of Love Island was immediately preceded by a double-bill of the sitcom Two and a Half Men. This programme typically includes some limited discussion of adult and sexual themes and does not aim to attract child viewers. We
considered these factors helped, in this case, to ensure that the transition to stronger material after the watershed was not unduly abrupt. In addition, given the brevity and relative inexplicitness of the content, we did not consider it amounted to the strongest material
. For all these reasons, our Decision was that Rule 1.6 was not breached.
We considered that the Licensee had ensured that this potentially offensive material was justified by the context. Therefore, our Decision was that it did not breach Rule 2.3. In the particular circumstances of this case, Ofcom has found this material
did not breach of the Code.
However, as noted above, we consider that content including real sex may carry a greater potential to raise issues under the Code than depictions of sex in a drama or film. Broadcasters should take particular care and exercise caution when scheduling
material of this type soon after the watershed.
Moralists fall out of love with the TV censors
Of course a few moralist campaigners were non pleased by Ofcom's decision and were happy to provide the Daily Mail with a few sound bites.
Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, whinged:
Schools work hard to encourage children not to experiment with sex and these kinds of programmes
present sex as some kind of Victorian freak show, offered up for entertainment.
Sam Burnett, acting director of Mediawatch-UK, whinged:
Apparently it's now OK to show two people having sex nine minutes after the watershed as long as you play some jaunty
music over the top of it.
Ofcom's lip-service regulation is leading to a freefall in television standards, and it's the viewers who are losing out.
Conservative MP Sir William Cash whinged:
The bottom line is that this was inappropriate. I would agree with those who have said it's deplorable.
Offsite Comment: The Daily Mail has a rant about Ofcom
The BBC has been accused of turning Crimewatch into a soap opera , after leaving viewers guessing over what happened in a historic
The first episode of the revamped series retold the case of Melanie Road, who was raped and killed in 1984 at the age of 17. But viewers complained that the episode ended on a disgraceful cliffhanger , as they were told to tune in next week to see
how the case concluded.
The new series of Crimewatch hosted by Jeremy Vine and Tina Daheley will be shown weekly with a new segment on How They Caught various criminals, however some viewers were angry over the soap opera-style cliff hanger following the first episode
A spokesman for morality campaigners, MediaWatch-UK said:
Crimewatch has long provided a valuable service in raising awareness of unsolved crimes, but the BBC is treading a dangerous line between being informative and sensationalist.
The Corporation will undermine its good work by turning tragedy into cliffhanger entertainment.
The BBC defended the format, saying it was necessary to tell the story over two weeks as it involved decades of police investigation.
The Daily Mail runs with the headline: Can TV Sink Any Lower? and continues:
It claims to be progressive and truthful. In fact, Channel 4's new naked dating show is stupid and degrading voyeurism from what's meant to be a public service broadcaster.
From Big Brother to Sex Box, the world of TV is always looking for new lows. And this week Channel 4 succeeded.
Thousands of viewers complained on Twitter and media guardians branded Naked Attraction -- an uncensored nude dating show -- the worst programme ever shown on TV . Broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has already received 24 complaints about nudity.
A spokesman for MediaWatch UK said:
This has to be the worst programme ever shown on television, there is nothing to recommend it.
Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, accused Channel 4 of
Grossly irresponsible broadcasting and viewers labelled it creepy and a new low for British TV .
In each two-part programme, a pair of contestants get to appraise the six people vying in their birthday suits for approval. Each date stands stark naked in a box, while a screen is gradually raised to reveal them front and back bit by wobbly
bit , as presenter Anna Richardson puts it.
The contestants then reject the dates one by one for purely physical reasons mainly attached to their genitalia. When only two potential dates are left, they parade naked while the contestant runs the rule over them, and while this doesn't quite happen
literally, in Monday's opening programme one aspiring suitor was rejected because his penis was too big.
A spokesperson for Channel 4 responded to the whinges explaining:
This is a light-hearted and appropriately scheduled series which aims to demystify the rules of sexual attraction for the Tinder generation.
At the time of writing, 45 viewers had complained to the TV censor Ofcom who will no doubt reject them out of hand.
Despite the complaints, Naked Attraction has proved a hit with an average of 1.4 million viewers tuning to the series opener.
Naked Attraction airs Monday nights at 10PM on Channel 4.
Never before have programme-makers shown such blatant contempt for basic standards, with record levels of explicit nudity serving no particular purpose. It's not even like the programme was any good to compensate.
Offsite Article: Naked Attraction unzipping the history of male full-frontal nudity on TV.
The first penis was shown on British television in 1957 during an episode of the documentary series Out of Step. Presenter Daniel Farson visited a nudist
colony and, perhaps unsurprisingly, some naked chap wandered past in the back ground. While this did make the front page of The Daily Herald, only one viewer called Television House -- and that was to praise the programme.
Moralist campaigners are now whingeing that the Channel 4 dating show, Naked Attraction , is available to view by youngsters anytime on its catch-up service. It can be easily accessed by children if parental controls haven't been set.
Norman Wells, director of Family Education Trust, whinged:
Although it's broadcast after 10pm, many young teenagers will be aware of it and will be able to access it online without too much difficulty.
Sexually explicit programmes like this one are sending out mixed messages to children and young people. On the one hand, parents and teachers are warning them about the dangers of sexting and encouraging modesty and restraint, while on the other hand
sexual exhibitionism is being promoted as a legitimate form of entertainment by a public service broadcaster.
Sam Burnett, acting director of Mediawatch UK, whinged:
We're concerned that programmes like Naked Attraction are freely available via on-demand apps with barely more than a
box-ticking effort to ensure the person watching is over 18.
As programme-makers chase publicity and controversy they're encouraging young people to seek out inappropriate content to keep up with playground gossip.
We have an anything-goes culture in television production. Just because a programme is on late at night with fewer viewers doesn't mean that standards should be thrown out of the window. That record-breaking nudity is no longer as bad as it once was
isn't because we are more enlightened, it's a sad reflection of a society grown dull through over-exposure to pornography.
Meanwhile in the US, moralist campaigners are a bit green with envy about there being actual nudity on TV to complain about. Americans usually have to put up with their nudity being censored by pixelation.
In recent years, Americans have been bombarded by ever-more sleazy concepts for reality shows, from Walk of Shame Shuttle and The Seven Year Switch to
Sex Box and Dating Naked . But British TV proves that there's always something more depraved waiting in the wings.
Naked Attraction is a new program on Britain's Channel Four which premiered this week. On the show, a contestant chooses a date from a panel of six eligible singles. How does the contestant make her choice? By viewing all six potential partners
completely in the nude. Unlike Dating Naked , nothing is blurred; the show features full-frontal nudity, in shocking close-up.
And when Channel Four says naked, [they] mean NAKED. There are no modesty blurs like those found on VH1's Dating Naked or the Discovery Channel's Naked and Afraid . About 50 percent of the screen time on this show is dedicated to extreme close ups of
vaginas, penises, six-packs, love-handles, nipples, boobs and butts. The camera seems to linger on every hair, pimple and stretch mark, as well as the curves and protrusions, notes an article about the show .
American TV history is rife with concepts borrowed from British television, from All in the Family and Sanford and Son to MTV's Skins and The In-Betweeners . American viewers can only hope that this is one case where American
media decides NOT to imitate their cousins across the ocean.
There have been a handful of whinges about a couple having sex on the TV show, Love Island.
Viewers were supposedly shocked when contestants Emma-Jane Woodham and Terry Walsh openly had sex in a segment broadcast ten minutes after the 9pm watershed.
A spokesman for ITV said the scenes in question are inexplicit and that their focus was on the other islanders reactions. The spokesman added that ITV were not aware of any viewer complaints and that the scenes were fully compiled for broadcast.
However the Telegraph dragged up a few angry tweets and sound bites. Eg Rachael Gifford tweeted:
Can't believe Emma and Terry had above the cover sex in front of the whole villa #wtf #LoveIsland #Disgusting
Meanwhile a spokeswoman for the moralist campaign group Mediawatch-UK complained that:
Sex in the context of Love Island is being sensationalised and demonstrates nothing of real loving committed relationships.
She added that both broadcasters and participants should take more responsibility for what is shown and its impact on younger viewers.
A spokesman for Ofcom, the UK TV censor, said the body had received six complaints in relation to the show, four regarding sexual content and two others to do with bullying.
The new BBC blockbuster Versailles is described by the Corporation as a delicious treat for viewers, but MPs and morality campaigners are 'outraged' by its nudity and sex scenes, and have described it as porn dressed up in a cravat and
The Daily Mail gushes:
The lavish French-made series, which depicts the decadent and debauched life of France's Sun King, Louis XIV, is set to be the most sexually graphic costume drama ever shown on British TV.
The drama produced by Canal Plus has been shown in France and caused immediate controversy about it being filmed in English.
In the Conservative MP and sound bite provider Andrew Bridgen whinged:
There are channels where, if you wish to view this sort of material, you would have to pay for it. BBC viewers don't have a choice. They have to pay for it whether they approve or not.
Is this an example of the BBC dumbing down and seeking more sensationalised programming? That's an arms race to the bottom -- quite literally in this case.
Norman Wells, director of the morality campaign group Family Education Trust whinged:
Public service broadcasting is meant to be for the public benefit, but it is very difficult to see whose benefit is being served by showing such highly graphic and explicit scenes on TV.
Sam Burnett, of Mediawatch UK, whinged:
Dressing up pornography and violence in a cravat and tights doesn't make it cultural.
The BBC is yet to confirm a broadcast time for the ten-part series, which is expected to be screened in May. Asked if the BBC would be running the drama in full, a spokesman said: Why wouldn't we be? Sue Deeks, BBC head of programme acquisition,
added: Versailles will be a delicious treat for BBC2 viewers.
Radio 4 is to broadcast a mid-morning adaptation of the seminal feminist novel, Fear of Flying , complete with strong language and sexual descriptions. The BBC said it will will not censor the swearwords or sexual content.
The BBC station will air a five-part adaptation of Fear of Flying, the 1973 novel by the feminist writer Erica Jong , next week. The first episode, which will air on Monday at 10:45am, features a reference to finger-fucking , and there are
also mentions of the zipless fuck , and descriptions of how the central character longs to be filled up with a giant prick spouting semen .
While television has a 9pm watershed, no similar restrictions apply to radio. The BBC says that Radio 4 is an adult network, that listeners will be given a series of warnings about graphic content, and that children will be back at school after half
Vivienne Pattison, the director of Mediawatch-UK, said:
This could be on in the kitchen, or the car. A lot of children might hear it. I don't think it is acceptable. Lots of people don't realise there is no watershed on radio, and get quite shocked.
A BBC spokesman said:
Radio 4 is an adult network and the drama slot after Woman's Hour is long established with listeners expecting it to deal with a full range of adult issues which, on occasion, and when appropriate to the situation, include a realistic reflection of
Fear of Flying is recognised as one of the most seminal, culturally significant pieces of feminist writing from the past 50 years and its broadcast will be contextualised by discussions on Woman's Hour and strong language warnings.