Should comedians be censored?

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
April 08, 2011, 6:12 PM GMT+0

More members of the British public feel that comedians no longer have the freedom to tell risky or potentially offensive jokes on television than think comedy should be censored if liable to offend, our poll has found. Just over one in five people think that the balance between artistic freedom and potentially offensive comedy on television is about right.

  • 41% say that radio and television comedians no longer have sufficient freedom to tell potentially risky or offensive jokes, and think that broadcasters should be backing comedians against complaints, because, after all, those who are offended can just ‘switch off’
  • 32% disagree, saying that making jokes on subjects which may offend large sections of the population shouldn’t be allowed, and that broadcasters should ensure they aren’t shown
  • 22% think that broadcasters currently have the balance between the two about right

Age appears to be a serious factor in appreciation, or lack thereof, of ‘risky’ comedy, with older people feeling especially strongly against its broadcast and younger people more in favour of comedic ‘freedom’.

  • 51% of 18-24 year olds think that comedians do not have enough freedom on television, and think that broadcasters should support comedians against complaints, as viewers who do not appreciate any comedy have the choice to not watch it
  • Just 13% of the same younger age group who think comedy liable to offend should not be shown
  • In contrast, older people are of almost exactly the opposite opinion, with 51% of the over-60s thinking that broadcasters should ensure potentially risky comedy shouldn’t be shown
  • Only 23% of the same age group think comedians lack freedom
  • Comedy and complaintsThe subject of potentially ‘offensive’ comedy, and a broadcaster’s responsibility to police it, has come to the fore recently as former glamour model and reality television regular Katie Price, aka Jordan, won her case against infamous comedian Frankie Boyle over jokes about her disabled son.The regulator Ofcom upheld Price’s complaint against Boyle over a series of jokes made during his Channel 4 show ‘Tramadol Nights’. The jokes appeared to ‘mock the mental and physical disabilities’ of Price’s eight-year-old son Harvey, and while Ofcom said the comments were potentially ‘highly offensive’, it stopped short of making Channel 4, whose chief executive had approved the comedy for broadcast, apologise. Channel 4 responded to the ruling, arguing that Boyle's comedy is not ‘intended as a slur on any particular community’.Popular BBC motoring show Top Gear also came in for criticism in recent months for perceived ‘racist’ jokes about Mexicans, while in 2008 former BBC presenter Jonathan Ross was suspended for leaving sexually suggestive messages on actor Andrew Sachs’s answerphone during Russell Brand’s now-defunct BBC 2 radio show. Both presenters involved apologised after Ofcom received 18,000 complaints over the incident.See the survey details and full results here (part of a larger survey about television)