How should journalists report racially offensive language?  

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
March 21, 2022, 10:46 AM GMT+0

One in five ethnic minority Britons think written and broadcast news should use the word in full

The BBC came under fire in 2020 after using a racial slur in full as part of a report into a racially-aggravated attack in Bristol. The victim's family supported the BBC using the word to convey the seriousness of the assault. However, for its efforts, the BBC earned over 18,000 direct and 384 Ofcom complaints.

Now, new YouGov research among ethnic minority Britons looks at how people think racial slurs should be quoted in written and broadcast news media.

While all broadcast outlets will have differing editorial guidelines, ethnic minority Britons tend to think slurs should be quoted as a euphemism, using such phrases as "the N-word" or “P-word” (28%) in TV and radio news.

At the other end of the scale, 20% think television and radio reporters should use the language in full, without any sort of censorship or alteration.

A similar number of ethnic minority Britons (18%) think racial slurs should be bleeped out of broadcast reports. Another 13% say such words should not be reported at all.

Britons of Indian descent split on how broadcast news should quote slurs, 24% to 24% between using the word in full or a euphemism. Those from Pakistani backgrounds tend to think slurs should be replaced with euphemisms (34%), and 24% bleeped out.

Black Britons also tend to think euphemisms should be used to quote racial slurs (36%), while one in five (20%) say using the word in full is the right way to go and 15% would prefer it bleeped out. Another 16% think slurs should not be quoted at all.

Comparing the attitudes of ethnic minority Britons against those of white Britons shows similar attitudes, with some small exceptions. A quarter of white Britons (25%) think these quotes should be represented with euphemisms, and another 24% think they should be used in full. The biggest difference comes among those who think these words should not be reported at all (18%, versus 13% of ethnic minority Britons).

Should newspapers quote racially offensive language?

In 2015, the New York Times faced a similar dilemma to the BBC. In a podcast highlighting how slavery still casts a long shadow on life in the US, then-president Barack Obama had used the N-word – so should they quote it in full? Editors ultimately decided to print the word in their report to not detract from the president's message.

Approaching one in four ethnic minority Britons (24%) think written news should report slurs using the initial letter and symbols such as dashes or asterisks.

Another 20% think newspapers should in general not censor these words and report them fully, the same proportion as those who think broadcast news should report it in full.

A slightly smaller proportion (18% of ethnic minority Britons) think written news reports should use euphemisms like ‘the N-word’. An additional one in twelve (8%) think the word should be censored entirely with symbols, while an identical proportion think the word should not be reported at all.

Black Britons are split 28% to 27% whether news outlets should use the first letter and symbols or a euphemism. People from Indian backgrounds tend to think quotes should use slurs in full (23%). However, 18% say they should replace it with the first letter and symbols, while 14% say euphemisms instead.

One difference between ethnic minority Britons and white Britons is that the latter are more likely to think newspapers should print slurs in full (26%, versus 20% of ethnic minority Britons). Further to this, white Britons are also more likely to think racial slurs should not be printed at all (17% versus 8%).

Older ethnic minority Britons are the most likely to think media should quote racial slurs without censorship

Among ethnic minority Britons, older generations tend to think TV and radio should report racially offensive language in full. Indeed, those aged 65 and over are more than twice as likely to think TV and radio reports should quote racial slurs in full (35%) as those aged between 18 and 24 (14%).

As with broadcast reports, three in ten ethnic minority people aged 65 and over (32%) think the slurs should be shown unaltered, compared to only 9% of those aged 18 to 24. This younger age bracket splits between thinking they should quote them as letters and symbols (30%) or euphemisms (25%).

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