The Broadcasting Standards Council's remit is to examine and advise on issues of taste and decency in broadcasting. Each year, it focusses on a specific area and undertakes detailed research into it. In 1991 the issue was that of bad language: swearing and terms of abuse. The research aimed to understand the limits of acceptability of swearing; both in terms of situations where swearing is considered more or less acceptable and in terms of the types of words that can be used under differing circumstances. The approach selected involved using sorting and reporting techniques which, while involving strong and potentially offensive language, did not cause embarrassment or offense to interviewees themselves. At the same time, since the tasks used offered individuals the chance to set their own agenda of bad language, the research did not impose pre-existing definitions of acceptability and unacceptability upon the sample. The research also identified a typology of objectors and non-objectors. In a second stage of the research, using mixed quantitative and qualitative techniques, the contexts in which swearing is accepted was studied. For the Council, the research helps to indicate where the boundaries of acceptability of swearing lie, and to identify those members of the public most likely to be offended by its use in broadcasting.
Author: Philip Savage
June 15, 1992
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