Every few years the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) releases a report on the acceptability of words in broadcasting. They have recently released their 2018 report, based on findings of a national survey among 1,500 members of the general public aged 18 years and over. The survey measured how acceptable the public finds the use of offensive language on television or radio, including swear words, blasphemies and other potentially derogatory or offensive language. The BSA consulted with Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission), Human Rights Commission and Ministry for Women in preparing the survey.
The Advertising Standards Authority has had no involvement in this research but is grateful to be able to use the research to help inform them on community attitudes. The Complaints and Appeal Boards take the rating of these words as indicative of the community views about their use when these or similar words feature in advertising.
Belinda Moffat, Chief Executive of the BSA, said: “This research provides a useful and insightful snapshot of current community attitudes to offensive language in New Zealand. The research findings give broadcasters a clear indication of the type of language that is considered unacceptable by the New Zealand public. We hope the research will also be a useful tool for organisations seeking to uphold NZ values and develop more inclusive and harmonious workplace cultures.”
The key findings of the survey include:
- Traditional strong swear words continue to be considered the most unacceptable regardless of the context.
- Racial/cultural insults included in the 2018 survey ranked in the 12 most offensive words, suggesting the public are becoming more concerned about the use of derogatory language directed at a person’s race or culture, or sexual orientation.
- When asked to identify other offensive words, 1 in 5 respondents pointed to words they consider to be racist or offensive from a cultural/ethnic context. Respondents said they find language which describes other races in a derogatory way and derogatory references to a person’s sexual orientation, unacceptable.
- The context and audience expectations of the programme are important and affect whether the audience will find strong language acceptable. Offensive language is generally considered more acceptable in fictional, comedic or scripted contexts, particularly after 8.30pm. Respondents found offensive language less acceptable in factual/reality/spontaneous contexts, e.g. when used by a radio host on a breakfast programme, in sports commentary, or in reality TV. For broadcasters, this means that audience advisories warning about potentially offensive language and the time of broadcast are important, as this allows audiences to make informed choices about whether they or children ought to listen to potentially offensive language.
View the key findings: Key Findings – Language That May Offend in Broadcasting
View the full report: Final Report – Language That May Offend in Broadcasting 2018