Watching the watershed

Anthony WellsHead of European Political and Social Research
December 13, 2010, 9:29 PM GMT+0

Please note, this article and the survey below contain language that some may find offensive

Around a third of Brits think there should be tighter restrictions on bad language on television and over one in five say they often feel offended by the language they hear on TV, our poll on swearwords has found.

  • 36% of people think there are not tight enough restrictions on swearing on television
  • 12% think that current restrictions are too tight
  • 51% are rarely or never offended by language used on television
  • 22% of people say they personally are often offended
  • Restrictions on swearing should be tightest for children’s and family TV, our results show, while soap operas, films and serious drama should have more freedom
  • Racist terms are considered to be the most offensive language

Female and older viewers are most concerned about language on television.

Among women over 60:

  • 68% think there should be tighter restriction upon swearing on television
  • 47% say they are personally offended by language on television very or fairly often
  • Among those under 25, however, only 5% think there should be tighter restrictions
  • 80% are rarely or never offended by language on television.
  • 60% of men are rarely or never offended by language on television compared to 41% of women.
  • 43% of women think swearing should be more tightly restricted compared to 29% of men.

Programme restrictions

Asked about different sorts of television programming, people are - unsurprisingly - most concerned about language in children's television and family entertainment, where large majorities think that there should be tighter restrictions upon language.

  • 46% think that soap operas should have tighter restrictions on language than other programmes.
  • 38% of people think language restrictions should be more relaxed for serious drama
  • 37% people think the same for films (possibly due to a dislike of dubbing or cuts to movies).
  • 27% think that comedy programmes should be given more leeway than other types of programme.

Specific words

In terms of specific words*, racially offensive words were regarded most seriously, with over half of respondents thinking they should be totally banned from the television. Over half of respondents also thought the words ‘spastic’ and ‘cunt’ should never be allowed on television.

30% of respondents think ‘fuck’ should not be used on television, with 65% thinking it should only be used after the 9pm watershed. ‘Wanker’ was seen as similarly offensive, with 23% thinking it should be banned and 67% that is should only be used after the watershed.

In regard to words relating to sexuality, 29% though the word ‘faggot’ should be banned, and 23% that ‘dyke’ should be banned. The least offensive of these was seen to be ‘queer’, which 21% thought should not be used, but 26% thought should be allowed on the television at any time, probably a reflection of the word being increasingly reclaimed from hate speech by the gay community.

The use of ‘Jesus Christ’ as an expletive produced the most divided responses. 41% of people thought it should be allowed on television at any time, but 19% found such use sufficiently offensive to think it should be banned from television at all times.

The words that people considered least offensive were ‘hell’, which 67% thought should be able to be used on the television at any time, ‘bloody’ (58% thought was okay before the watershed), ‘crap’ (49% thought okay pre-watershed) and ‘arse’ (39%). Almost a quarter of people (23%) felt that ‘shit’ was acceptable to use before the watershed.

(*Respondents were offered the chance to skip the question asked about specific words. 7% of people chose not to respond to this question)

See the survey details and full results here