Attitudes to potentially offensive language and gestures on TV and radio

30 September 2016

Warning: this report contains a wide range of words which may cause offence.

As the regulator for the UK communications industries, one of Ofcom's important responsibilities is to set standards for offensive language in TV and radio content, and to assess if there are breaches of the rules in Ofcom's Broadcasting Code. Ofcom commissioned this research to inform its decisions about potentially offensive language. The research aimed to assess how perceptions of this language differed based on context, and by different demographic groups.

The main objectives for this research were:

  • to understand current public attitudes towards offensive language on TV and radio;
  • to establish a contemporary barometer of offensive language in terms of acceptability; and
  • to give Ofcom an understanding of the contextual factors which influence the acceptability of offensive words on TV and radio - both generally and in particular.

This research follows two previous Ofcom studies on attitudes to potentially offensive language, carried out in 2005 and 2010. The 2016 study builds on the previous research by: (i) including a larger number of words; (ii) involving a broader range of minority groups as participants; and (iii) considering potentially offensive gestures for the first time.

The research used a mixed methodology involving 248 participants in total, from around the UK. It comprised a series of face-to-face focus groups and in-depth interviews, and a separate quantitative online survey of 150 potentially offensive words and gestures followed by an online community discussion with the same participants

Attitudes to potentially offensive language and gestures on TV and radio - Research report PDF, 1.5 MB

Attitudes to potentially offensive language and gestures on TV and radio - Quick reference guide PDF, 279.1 KB