UK: BBC Guidelines on offensive language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Nov 29 14:06:27 UTC 2008

BBC guidelines on offensive language The corporation's procedure on how to
avoid causing offence through the use of foul language

   - <>, Friday November 28 2008
   13.37 GMT
   - Article history<>

 "Offensive language is one of the most frequent causes of complaint. It can
be a particular source of offence in sub-titles or online. Judgements about
its use are difficult because they depend on tone and context.

"There is no consensus about words that are acceptable, when, and by whom.
Different words cause different degrees of offence in different parts of the
world. So a person's age, sex, education, employment, belief, nationality,
and where they live, all impact on whether or not they might be offended.

"We do not include any offensive language in pre-school children's
programmes or websites (four years and under). We must not include offensive
language in programmes or websites made for younger children except in the
most exceptional circumstances.

"We must not include offensive language before the watershed or on radio
when children are particularly likely to be in our audience, or in online
content likely to appeal to a high proportion of children, unless it is
justified by the context and then its frequent use must be avoided.

"We must be able to justify the use of offensive language in challenging
factual programmes, comedy and drama broadcast throughout the day on our
speech radio stations. It will also generally require clear content

"We must not include the MOST offensive language before the watershed, or on
radio when children are particularly likely to be in our audience, or in
online content likely to appeal to a high proportion of children.

"We must make careful judgements about the use of the most offensive
language post-watershed and ensure it is clearly signposted.

"Any proposal to use the most offensive language (cunt, motherfucker and
fuck) must be referred to and approved by a senior editorial figure or for
Independents by the commissioning editor and the relevant output controller
for television, radio, online and any other service. Chief adviser editorial
policy may also be consulted.

"Language that causes most offence includes:
• sexual swearwords
• terms of racist abuse
• terms of sexual and sexist abuse or abuse referring to sexuality
• pejorative terms relating to illness or disabilities
• casual or derogatory use of holy names or religious words and especially
in combination with other offensive language."

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