Viewers less tolerant of discriminatory language than swear words reveals Ofcom report

But bleeping out words can be just as offensive as swearing


A new study from Ofcom has found that TV and radio audiences have become less tolerant of racist or discriminatory words in the last six years.


The research, which looked at people’s reactions to144 swear words and slurs from broadcasts that had been deemed offensive, showed that discriminatory and racist language had a larger emotional impact than ‘general’ swear words.

However, when it came to swearing in general, the report discovered that substituting swearing with a bleeping noise had the power to be just as offensive as the profanity, especially if the bleeping was repeated. Which could create problems for protecting younger audiences before the watershed.

Ofcom also found that, for the first time, swearing on the radio was likely to be more offensive than that on TV due to the “intimacy” of the platform. However, audiences were more likely to tolerate swearing on both the box and radio if it was in an appropriate context and reflected the “real world”.

So, how did Ofcom get the results? By testing audiences against episodes of the likes of Fawlty Towers, Big Brother, Don’t Tell The Bride and Father Ted.


While audiences were willing to forgive offensive language and stereotypes found in older shows, viewers were found to be less tolerant of modern TV that contained swearing without a warning before the show started.