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New Ofcom report reveals that audiences are less tolerant of racist language

Ofcom report suggests what is tolerable on TV is changing -Credit: Luciana Guerra/PA

Ofcom has released a report regarding public attitudes towards offensive language on TV and radio.

According to the report, it found that in 2020 there was only a 1% proportion of total broadcasting complaints about swearing. However, there was an 8% proportion of total broadcasting complaints about racial discrimination.

In the report conducted by Ipsos Mori, it found that participants typically felt that they were not easily offended and that they found it difficult to recall examples where they had been offended in the past.

It was also noted that many participants had become desensitised to offensive language, particularly swearing as it's very much embedded within our society.

Despite this, many participants recognised that some language was deemed more acceptable, compared to others.

For example, many agreed that within in the right context some language could be justifiable. In some instances, offensive language can bring out emotion and entertainment. Participants argued that without such language, TV and radio would be less authentic and entertaining.

As long as there was justification and careful consideration when deciding on using offensive language, many agreed that it would be acceptable.

However, the report also highlighted that targeted or discriminatory language could be harmful to individuals, communities and society as a whole. Participants were not happy with this use of language used in non-scripted shows, e.g. reality TV.

This is mainly because this targeted or discriminatory language could become harmful and that there is no justification behind it. Participants are wanting TV makers to recognise the responsibility they have when looking after not only programme participants, but to also consider their audience.

Adam Baxter, the Director of Standards and Audience Protection is not surprised that people's tolerance towards language has changed. He said:

"People’s views on offensive language can change significantly over time. So to ensure we’re setting and enforcing our rules effectively, it’s essential we keep up to date with how viewers and listeners think and feel" - Adam Baxter

Mr Baxter continued by saying that censoring offensive language, whilst maintaining freedom of speech is important to balance. He said: "Broadcasters’ and audiences’ right to freedom of expression is important".

"These findings will help us to strike the right balance between protecting audiences – and children in particular – from unjustified offence, while still allowing broadcasters the creative freedom to reflect real life in their programmes".

To read the full report, you can find it here

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