BSA claims a softening towards swearing

Herald on Sunday Feb 22, 2009

Looking back, it’s hard to imagine what all the fuss was about. The 1999 “bugger” ad, featuring a farmer’s frustration at the mess caused by his new Toyota truck, attracted 120 complaints. Ten years on, shows like expletive-laden mob drama The Sopranos and the cussing coven of Sex and The City have made the B-word seem tame. TVNZ programme buyer Andrew Shaw, who brought The Sopranos and ultra-realistic Western Deadwood to our screens, said audiences are intelligent enough to appreciate when swearing is dramatically justified. “There is a time and a place for it, and good programme makers and broadcasters know when it is.”

So, it seems, do the viewers. The latest Broadcasting Standards Authority survey on attitudes to offensive language confirmed a softening towards swearing. More than two-thirds of people surveyed in 2006 were offended by the C-word, but only 58 per cent baulked at the F-word, down from 70 per cent in 2000. “Bugger” bothered only 16 per cent. According to the BSA, even the C-word doesn’t necessarily breach standards. It’s all about context – the programme’s timing, tone and target audience.

Last week, the BSA released decisions on 10 complaints about TV swearing in the second half of 2008, double the number from the previous six months. “Perhaps people are grumpier,” said BSA chief Dominic Sheehan. “Historically we’ve noticed peaks and troughs for what happens to be the flavour of the day.” Only two complaints were upheld: one against TV One’s historical drama Rome and the other against Tom Cruise’s movie Eyes Wide Shut.