British audiences are becoming more tolerant of foul language on TV and radio, according to a controversial new report commissioned by the nation’s media regulator.
But critics have slammed the research, based on discussions with just 129 people, and warned that it could encourage broadcasters to air even more obscene language.
Ofcom’s report claims that the use of “Jesus Christ” is generally considered to be acceptable “because it is frequently used in everyday life and not usually used in a context which is likely to offend people.”
The report, entitled Audience Attitudes Towards Offensive Language on Television and Radio, also found that many people consider the use of swear words to be acceptable ahead of the 9pm watershed.
However, repetitive use of ‘strong’ language was considered to be generally unacceptable.
Critics fear that the report will encourage a softening of attitude towards foul language, and have warned that the report is out of step with public opinion.
Vivienne Pattison, chair of radio and television watchdog Mediawatch UK, dismissed the report’s findings.
She said: “It just doesn’t ring true. I find it really surprising because in all the conversations I have the general view is that swearing is not acceptable pre-watershed at all.
“Also it is not acceptable in society per se, one can’t go into a shop and say things like that. That’s why it is does seem bizarre that people would think it would be okay on television. I have been totally bamboozled by the science behind the survey.”
Her frustration was echoed by Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, who said: “Some of the things they are saying are acceptable is frankly amazing. I hope it won’t be used to give licence to the broadcasters to totally ignore what I think are real concerns about good taste.
“We have a responsibility to set standards and I think it is important that broadcasters don’t just operate at the lowest common denominator.
“Nobody but nobody has come to me saying we want to see more swearing, it is the reverse, they want to see less of it.”
However, an Ofcom spokesman denied that they were planning any relaxation to the broadcasting regulations.
The spokesman said: “Our research shows that audiences remain concerned about a range of language that they find offensive.
“For this reason we are not considering any changes to our robust rules, which protect the public, and in particular children, from offensive material.’
The report was based on interviews and discussion groups with a general UK sample of 94 people, and an additional minority audience sample of 35 people.
Ofcom’s report also appears to contradict figures released earlier this year, which indicated that record numbers of people are complaining about the use of foul language on TV and radio programmes.
Ofcom received 500 complaints in the first three months of this year, and has been asked to rule on a further 1,159 complaints from 2009.
These figures represent a significant increase since 2006 when there were 841 complaints.
Last September it was revealed that Channel 4 was planning to cut down on the amount of swearing in its programmes due to a “shift in the public mood”.
The channel’s Chief Executive, Andy Duncan, said programmes such as Jamie’s Ministry of Food and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA had attracted criticism for their heavy use of expletives.”
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Duncan said: “There’s probably something of a shift in the public mood and appetite around this and of course we’re sensitive to that.
He added: “I do think generally across the whole industry, and I would include Channel 4 in that, there is a shift in the public mood and we are adjusting accordingly.”
And in October the BBC revealed that it had plans to clamp down on swearing even after the 9pm watershed.
New BBC guidelines for regulating bad language on the corporation’s TV, radio and internet output were released to the public for their comments.