Public attitudes towards offensive language on TV and radio

Published: 3 January 2024
Last updated: 3 January 2024

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

Ofcom commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct research to help them understand public attitudes towards offensive language on TV and radio. The research focused on the use of potentially offensive language on scheduled broadcast TV or radio rather than on-demand programmes as the rules for broadcast and on-demand services are different. This report provides an updated picture of attitudes to offensive language, building on previous research commissioned by Ofcom in 2016. It also examines attitudes to other types of potentially offensive content, namely blackface, mimicking of accents, misgendering and deadnaming.

The research involved a mixed methods approach. A quantitative survey captured spontaneous responses on the acceptability of 186 words. It ran over five days, between 22 and 26 February 2021, with 368 respondents being asked about all 186 words. Respondents individually assessed the acceptability of each word before and after the watershed, reviewing around 37 potentially offensive words each day. The watershed only applies to television and is at 9pm. Material unsuitable for children should not, in general, be shown before 9pm or after 5.30am. On radio, Ofcom uses a broadly comparable concept of times “when children are particularly likely to be listening”.

The qualitative strand consisted of 37 online discussion groups and 25 depth interviews involving participants from a variety of locations and backgrounds. Fieldwork took place between 15 February and 6 May 2021.

Public attitudes towards offensive language on TV and radio – research report (PDF, 1.2 MB)

Public attitudes towards offensive language on TV and radio – quick reference guide (PDF, 501.7 KB)

Agweddau cyhoeddus at iaith dramgwyddus ar deledu a radio – rhagair (PDF, 225.9 KB)

Back to top