x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Britons fed up with four-letter words

An outcry over swearing has broken out in Britain, with broadcasters scaling back on the use of four-letter words.

Jamie Oliver, one of Britain's most popular celebrity chefs, used the 'f word' 23 times in a 50-minute episode, inviting public outcry.
Jamie Oliver, one of Britain's most popular celebrity chefs, used the 'f word' 23 times in a 50-minute episode, inviting public outcry.

LONDON // A backlash has emerged in Britain against the amount of swearing now common on television and radio. For years, there has been a progressive increase in the use of bad language in popular programmes, particularly among comedians, talk show hosts and, for no apparent reason, celebrity chefs. Now, though, there is a sudden, public outrage over the use of swear words, prompting the BBC to undertake to reduce it and the head of the rival ITV to say things have been allowed to go too far. The catalyst appears to have been a BBC radio show two months ago when Russell Brand, voted the UK's best stand-up comedian this year, and Jonathan Ross, the country's highest paid television entertainer, used foul language as they taunted a 78-year-old actor over the phone. Both men were suspended by the BBC, prompting Brand to quit. The future of Ross, who has a £6 million-a-year (Dh32.6m) contract with the BBC, is still uncertain. Mediawatch UK, a TV standards lobbying group, has now launched a petition calling on the government to "stop the use of unnecessary swearing and bad language" in the broadcast media. "The language we hear on television is damaging our language, our culture, our educational system," said John Beyer, director of the group. "If they were to do something about that, it would have benefits across the board." Mediawatch appears to be pushing at an open door. Most Britons, for example, believe that the "f word" should never be used on air, according to an opinion poll conducted for The Sunday Telegraph. The same newspaper did its own monitoring of five, free-to-air channels and found that the "f word" was used 88 times during a week's evening television viewing recently. According to the poll of more than 1,000 adults conducted by ICM, 57 per cent felt that there was too much swearing on TV and radio, while only two per cent wanted more. "This poll clearly shows just how offensive the public finds certain words and how tired they are of hearing their repetitive use on air at any time of the day," said Mr Beyer. "Broadcasters must take urgent action to eradicate gratuitous bad language from programmes. They are long overdue in responding to public opinion on the issue, and the poll shows that doing nothing is no longer an option." The mass-circulation Daily Mirror newspaper has also started a campaign this month to reduce the amount of swearing on television and the message seems to be getting through to some performers. Foul language used by Jamie Oliver, probably the country's most popular celebrity chef, in his show Jamie's Ministry of Food is being cut back following an outcry of his use of the "f word" 23 times in a recent, 50-minute episode. Sir Terry Wogan, the doyen of radio broadcasting in Britain, has publicly applauded such moves and has backed a clampdown on swearing on TV. "I don't think it is ever acceptable - there will be a backlash against it. The 'f word' is bad enough. It's an example of people who are inarticulate," he said. "People think they will have more street cred with the youth if they eff and blind." In fact, broadcasters are realising - perhaps belatedly - that too much swearing is alienating large parts of their audiences and, since the furore following the Brand-Ross outbursts, are cutting back in their own interests. Curbs have now been introduced on the use of four-letter words on the BBC, says Jana Bennett, the corporation's director of vision. "We have actually been pushing back a bit on language," she told a conference of senior media managers. "It is possible that some language alienates some audiences unnecessarily." Michael Grade, the executive chairman of ITV, has also called on broadcasters to cutback on their use of bad language, which had become "rather indiscriminate". "I don't think we take enough care over the use of the 'f word' and similar words," he told a meeting of the Broadcasting Press Guild. "It used to be that you had a very senior sign-off to use that word in any show. I am not sure what the rules are these days. "Clearly not enough consideration is given to a very large section of the audience who, perhaps, don't want to hear that word or such words. "You therefore have to know why you're using it and give it a little bit of extra consideration." Frank Skinner, a stand-up comedian and TV presenter, is now doing his shows almost totally free of bad language. He made the move after experimenting one night with a show where he dropped all four-letter words. "And people still laughed," he said with some amazement. "To my horror, I find myself agreeing with Michael Grade and Terry Wogan that there really is too much swearing on television," said Skinner. "I don't want to sound like a grumpy old stand-up, but some young television comics use swearing like a kid uses tomato ketchup." dsapsted@thenational.ae