On 22 September 2021, Ofcom published research into public attitudes towards offensive language on TV and radio.(1) The research shows that viewers and listeners are generally more relaxed about most swearing on TV and radio, particularly if it is accidental and an apology swiftly follows.

According to the research, audiences said that they still want broadcasters to carefully consider when and how offensive language is used, so that children, in particular, are protected. However, many people recognised that in the right context, it can play an important role in programmes – for example, to:

  • create dramatic impact;
  • bring humour;
  • reflect real life; or
  • to inform and educate.

Participants also said, however, that they feel increasingly worried about discriminatory language on TV and radio, particularly around race, and expect such language to be used only when it is highly contextualised.

While opinions on older programmes containing potentially problematic content and language were mixed, most participants agreed that clear and specific warnings about the type of language and content that might cause offence were important in helping audiences make an informed choice.

Ofcom says that the findings will help broadcasters to better understand audience expectations about the use of potentially offensive language in their programmes, and what steps they may need to take to protect viewers and listeners.

The report will also help Ofcom's Standards and Audience Protection Team to understand and take account of current audiences' views when making decisions about potentially offensive language on TV and radio, while having full regard to freedom of expression.

Ofcom has also published a note to broadcasters in the latest issue of its Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin.(2)

For further information on this topic please contact Sean James at Wiggin by telephone (+44 1242 224 114) or email ([email protected]). The Wiggin website can be accessed at www.wiggin.co.uk.


(1) To read Ofcom's news release and for a link to the research report, click here.

(2) To access the note to broadcasters, click here.