Acceptability of words in broadcasting

Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) study into offensive language

The full report: Language that may offend in broadcasting (2022) is available on the BSA website.

This research on the acceptability of words in broadcasting was commissioned by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).

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 BSA report documents the findings of a national survey carried out in 2021 among 1,505 members of the general public aged 18 years and over. The findings form part of the latest BSA research tracking evolving public views on offensive language in broadcasting. The results are used by the BSA and broadcasters to help ensure programmes and BSA decisions reflect current community attitudes.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • Compared with the last survey in 2018, there is less tolerance for racial and cultural insults. These dominate the top seven most unacceptable words across all broadcasting contexts.
  • The N-word is the least acceptable of all words tested, with 65% of those surveyed considering it totally unacceptable across all scenarios. The C-word (at 57%) is the second-equal least acceptable, along with a newly tested racial insult.
  • Unacceptability has declined significantly since 2018 with respect to terms including the F-word and the results suggested a softening in attitudes towards blasphemy.
  • Pacific peoples are generally least accepting of offensive language. The N-word is the most offensive term for them, as for all ethnicities. Racial and gender-based terms are the least acceptable to Māori.
  • Younger people are generally more accepting of offensive language than those aged 55-plus. However, they have less tolerance for words relating to gender or sexual orientation than older age groups.
  • The 65-plus age group generally finds offensive language less acceptable.
  • Women find the use of potentially offensive words more unacceptable than men (No participants identified as another gender).
  • Offensive language is seen as least acceptable in more fact-based broadcasting settings with a host/presenter, in sports commentary, talkback radio, reality TV shows, and programmes before 8.30pm.
  • The use of potentially offensive language by stand-up comedians after 8.30pm, and in music and/or rap videos on TV or songs on the radio is seen as more acceptable than in other types of programming.

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