With little actual regulation on its plate for the time being Ofcom has decided to spend its time researching the UK’s attitudes to naughty words and gestures in broadcasting.
As you would expect, public attitudes to swearing and general rudeness over the airwaves have evolved since the infamous 1976 Sex Pistols TV interview that made the front page of the national newspapers, and which you can relive below.
People are now more tolerant of swearing on TV and radio, Ofcom found, so long as it’s in context and reflects ‘real world’ situations such as pretty much any conversation that ever takes place. Conversely they are less tolerant of the kind of underlying bigotry that was commonplace in the 70s, even in mainstream broadcasting.
The research involved focus groups, interviews and online surveys involving 248 people from around the UK. The study of rude words is intrinsically amusing as any child caught looking them up in the dictionary would tell you, but Ofcom has done a commendable job of trying to define 144 obscene words and gestures in this frankly hilarious quick reference guide.
“We set and enforce rules to protect viewers and listeners from potentially harmful and offensive content on TV and radio,” said Tony Close, Ofcom’s Director of Content Standards Licensing and Enforcement. “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.”
Of course offense is a very subjective concept. One person’s semi-aquatic rodent is another’s piece of anatomical slang. Anyone can choose to be offended by anything and any arbiter of such matters has to try reconcile the opinions of an incredibly diverse constituency. Ofcom must have had a laugh compiling this report but the constantly evolving nature of culture means its guidelines are likely to become obsolete before long.