Acceptability of words in broadcasting

Key Findings – Language That May Offend in Broadcasting

This research on the acceptability of words in broadcasting was commissioned by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).  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  that measures the acceptability of words during broadcast programmes. 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.

The report documents the findings of a national survey carried out in 2018 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 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.

Click here to view the full report on the BSA website. Please note the research contains offensive language.