Britons are increasingly concerned about the use of racist and transphobic language on television but far more tolerant of profanity, according to the media regulator’s latest survey of changing social attitudes.
Ofcom has found that attitudes towards racist language have hardened, with Britons wanting a very strong rationale for its inclusion in programs. Last summer, the BBC had to apologize after broadcasting the N-word during a report on an allegedly racist attack on a young man.
Another big change has been in attitudes towards transphobia. Research found that most of the public believed that a “deliberate gender error” by a trans person would be viewed as highly offensive. The insult – using a person’s identity before the transition – was seen as particularly unjustifiable, as it was likely to have been done on purpose.
The Ofcom study will help define the parameters of what can be broadcast on UK media, and shows substantial changes in attitudes since the exercise was last conducted five years ago. He concluded that audiences increasingly tolerate profanity on television, as long as it was editorially justified or the presenter quickly apologized.
As part of the research, members of the public were asked to rank the offensive nature of various swear words, slang for body parts, sexual terminology, racial terms, and political labels.
Ofcom has found terms such as “ass”, “douchebag” and “hash” to be light and unlikely to cause offense. However, words such as “damn”, “nuncio” and “grandpa” were very offensive and required very strong editorial justification if they were to be included in a program.
One issue was the environment in which the words were used, with LGBT respondents broadly approving the word ‘queer’, but only if it is used in a positive context.
At one point in the study, participants were shown a transcript of James O’Brien’s LBC show and asked to think about his use of the word ‘gammon’ to describe the red-faced Brexit supporters. . Other participants considered the term “snowflake” to describe sensitive youth.
“The two [gammon and snowflake] were considered less offensive compared to other derogatory words because they focus on people’s attitudes rather than their identity, ”Ofcom concluded.
“They were generally seen as descriptive words related to a person’s behavior or opinions rather than targeting a particular individual or group based on their inherent characteristics.”
Derogatory political terms such as “Karen”, “boomer” and “remoaner” were also classified as moderate.
However, there was a split between older and younger Brits over how to deal with repeats of old programs that no longer matched current social attitudes, with a transphobic term in an older episode of The Simpsons among the issues considered.
Some seniors interviewed by Ofcom felt that old films featuring blackface, like Carry On, should always be repeated, arguing that “blackface was socially acceptable when the film was made”.
“In some cases, they have suggested that he was included out of necessity due to a lack of non-white actors in the Carry On cast,” Ofcom said. “They felt that the use of blackface was not intended to offend and that removing the scenes with blackface would interrupt the narrative of the film.”
However, most young viewers and black participants in the study felt that repeating such programs “perpetuated outdated racist views” and that they should not be shown again.