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Offensive Word Research: Ofcom



Ofcom has published research exploring the latest attitudes to offensive language on TV and radio.  The report looks at words and gestures, exploring what people were likely to find unacceptable, and the reasons why they were judged to be offensive.

Live TV continues to have the greatest reach of all UK media formats, with 92% of people watching each week in 2016. Furthermore, nine in ten adults tuned into the radio, listening for an average of three hours daily.

The groups of potentially offensive language and gestures fell into two broad categories: general swear words – those with clear links to body parts, sexual references, and offensive gestures; and specifically discriminatory language, whether directed at older people, people of particular religions, people with mental health or disability issues, LGBT people, or racist language.

General and other non-discriminatory language
• For general swear words, the emotional impact associated with particular words was important. In particular, certain words like ‘fuck’ or ‘motherfucker’ were regarded as among the strongest offensive language and not acceptable before the watershed, with some respondents having concerns about their frequent use after the watershed.

• Words with clear links to body parts like ‘cunt’, ‘gash’ or ‘beef curtains’ were in general viewed in a way analogous to the more, or most, offensive general swear words. However, many respondents thought the less crass or vulgar words (such as ‘balls’ or ‘tits’) were the more acceptable before the watershed.

• Sexual references like ‘cocksucker’ or ‘prick teaser’ were typically evaluated in a similar way to the more, or most, offensive general swear words. They were seen as distasteful and often unnecessary, but acceptable if used in line with audience expectations after the watershed.

• Offensive gestures were viewed as broadly unacceptable before the watershed, but mostly acceptable after it. The ‘blow job’ gesture was the least acceptable because it was perceived as the most vulgar.


Discriminatory language
• Unlike other forms of discriminatory language, respondents had few concerns about the terms assessed in this report that were potentially insulting to older people. These were mildly distasteful to some of the older participants, but many (of a range of ages) found them inoffensive or even, to some extent, humorous.

• Many of the words that were discriminatory on religious grounds were unfamiliar to some of the participants.  However, those who were familiar with words such as ‘Taig’ and ‘Fenian’ viewed them as generally offensive and potentially unacceptable.

• Views on words relating to mental health and disability differed greatly. Words such as ‘spastic’, ‘mong’ or ‘retard’ were seen as insulting and derogatory, and therefore viewed as being as unacceptable as the strongestracist insults, with their use requiring significant contextual justification. On the other hand, words such as ‘nutter’, ‘loony’ or ‘mental’ were seen as more commonly – used mild insults, and were therefore much more acceptable, both before and after the watershed.

• Stronger homophobic and transphobic terms such as ‘faggot’, ‘homo’, and ‘chick with a dick’ were seen as very problematic by participants. This was, again, because of the insulting and derogatory nature of the language. These words were considered much less acceptable than general swear words.

• Racist language such as ‘coon’, ‘nigger’ and ‘wog’ were among the most unacceptable words overall; they were seen as derogatory, discriminatory and insulting. Many participants were concerned about these words being used at any time, with their use requiring significant contextual justification.


The 9pm watershed was considered crucial
The watershed on TV (or considering when children were particularly likely to be listening, in the case of radio) was seen as a good way of striking a balance between protecting children and respecting adult freedoms to watch TV or listen to radio when they wished. It was highly valued by almost all participants.


Unfamiliar words
Not all words were familiar to participants, and this limited the detailed feedback that could be collected on little-known terms. The least familiar words (those that were recognised by less than 40% of participants) were on the whole slang terms relating to body parts or sex, as well as some ethnic or religious slurs. These words are indicated in this and following chapters with an asterisk (*). Older participants recognised fewer words overall, tending not to recognise more recent slang terms.




‘Medium words’ were those more often employed as stronger insults, as well as some words considered more distasteful depending on how they were used. They were regarded to be potentially unacceptable before the watershed, although there was some debate among participants.

Words such as ‘cock’, ‘pussy’ and ‘minge’ were seen as significantly stronger; a number of participants described them as more graphic, vulgar, or rude. Overall, this group of words were deemed generally unacceptable before the watershed.

A participant in the survey said “Pussycat is fine but “Stop being such a pussy” puts the word in a different and more offensive context”.  

Participants agreed, however, that the word ‘pussy’ was potentially much more offensive when used as a slang term for vagina.  The words ‘beef curtains’ and ‘bloodclaat’ were recognised by less than half of those who completed the online survey.

However, among those familiar with these words, both were considered generally unacceptable for broadcast before the watershed. Participants classed a small number of terms such as ‘fuck’, ‘motherfucker’ and ‘cunt’ as the strongest and most offensive
terms in this category of non-discriminatory language. They were seen to express very strong emotions, or to be rude and aggressive insults. The cultural norms around these words meant they were less acceptable to use in front of children.

They were considered unacceptable before the watershed by the vast majority of participants. Responses to the word ‘cunt’ were particularly strong. A significant number of participants were uncomfortable with its use even after the watershed. Women were more likely to say it was completely unacceptable, based on its strong vulgar cultural associations. Some women and a few men said they were personally offended and would prefer ‘cunt’ not to be used on TV or radio at all.



Sexual slurs, and more graphic sexual references like ‘cocksucker’, ‘whore’, ‘rapey’, and ‘jizz’, provoked stronger responses from participants. They were considered less acceptable because of their vulgarity, and because they were more likely to be used as insults directed at individuals. Similarly, words such as ‘slut’, ‘skank’ and ‘slag’ were seen as derogatory and vulgar, while words like ‘wanker’ and ‘dildo’ were seen as rude.


Discriminatory language
Participants’ in the survey suggested that their views on the acceptability of this type of offensive language on TV and radio differed from their response to the non-discriminatory offensive language and gestures discussed above. In general, discriminatory language was seen as potentially more problematic than more general offensive language.



Religious insults
The majority of the words in this category were unfamiliar to a considerable number of the participants who took part in this survey. However, these words were generally problematic for those participants who recognised them. Views on acceptability also depended on perceived religious sensitivity. Many participants, even if they did not know the full meaning of the words, were wary of religious terminology because they were worried that people of faith might be offended.

These words were considered generally unacceptable before the watershed but broadly acceptable after it, based on the desire to protect religious

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Sexual orientation and gender identity
Most of these derogatory terms, relating to either sexual or gender identity, were seen as very problematic by all participants who recognised them. As a category, they were viewed as insulting, derogatory and discriminatory. As with some racist terms, many participants could not envisage how the stronger words could be used in a non-discriminatory

The word ‘gay’ was debated because it has multiple meanings and is used in multiple ways. Participants considered that it was acceptable when used as a simple identifier for homosexual people. Participants also discussed the use of ‘gay’ to mean ‘not cool’ or ‘not very good’. This caused some concern as it was considered potentially derogatory. While LGBT participants found this use of ‘gay’ less acceptable than participants generally, they did not consider it strongly offensive.

Words like ‘bummer’, ‘fairy’ and ‘pansy’ were medium in terms of acceptability. Participants thought of these words as rather dated and not often used now in a derogatory sense. However, they were still seen as potentially problematic when
intended to insult gay people. Many pointed out that some of these words are now used in the gay community in a humorous way. This meant that they were not always used as insults, thereby complicating decisions about acceptability and making context particularly important.

Words such as ‘dyke’, ‘poof’ and ‘rugmuncher’ were seen as strong and problematic. Participants objected to these types of words on the basis of being intentionally hurtful towards LGBT people. The terms were seen as generally unacceptable except in specific circumstances. For instance, as mentioned in the debated words section, some of these sexual orientation words like (such as ‘poof’, ‘queer’, and ‘dyke’) were seen as having been ‘reclaimed’ by the people they were originally intended to insult as expressions of their identity. In these circumstances the words were not considered

Terms such as ‘batty boy’, ‘chick with a dick’, and ‘faggot’ were seen as among the strongest language, and much more likely to be used as insults. Many participants argued these were mostly unacceptable in society in general as they are particularly discriminatory and derogatory. As a result, they were seen as potentially problematic when broadcast on TV and radio, with their acceptability highly dependent on the context. In part, participants wanted to avoid children coming across these words, but there were also powerful concerns about protecting gay and transgender people from being offended or insulted.



Mental health and physical disability
For participants, the most offensive words were those such as ‘spastic’, ‘mong’ and ‘retard’. In their opinion, these were the most derogatory, and were often used in ways likely to be hurtful towards people with disabilities. As with other strong forms of discriminatory language, participants emphasised that broadcasters should be very careful when using them. They should ensure that there are good reasons for doing so, and that any potential harm and offence are appropriately mitigated.

Race and ethnicity
Participants in the Ofcom survey had strong views about these words. Racist terms were the most unacceptable category overall because participants considered these words were usually used in a way that was derogatory and discriminatory to others. Participants thought they should normally be broadcast only in limited circumstances and in context, for example in news, drama, or documentary programmes to explore or expose prejudice.

However, participants did make some significant distinctions regarding the acceptability of words within this category. Terms such as ‘Jock’ or ‘Nazi’ were felt to be historical insults whose meaning and use had changed and softened over the years. Indeed, some Scottish participants did not find ‘Jock’ offensive and others expected ‘Nazi’ to be used mainly in educational contexts.

Although there was limited concern about the use of ‘Hun’ as a derogatory reference to German people, the word was seen as less acceptable by those familiar with its use as a sectarian insult. In general, though, these words were of limited concern.  Terms such as ‘pikey’ or ‘kraut’ were debated because some participants saw them as insulting and derogatory to specific groups – and therefore less acceptable – while others viewed them as having developed into more general insults.




New Community Radio Stations for KENT


Ofcom has today announced that it has awarded six community radio licences for the South East of England.

Applicants awarded a licence

Ofcom has made a licence award to each of the following:

  • 1 Brighton FM (Alias Music and Community Projects CIC), Brighton and Hove
  • Gaydio (Gaydio Brighton Ltd), Brighton and Hove
  • Platform B (Platform B), Brighton and Hove
  • Radio Cabin (Herne Bay’s Radio Cabin), Herne Bay, North East Kent
  • Sheppey FM (Sheppey Matters), Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey
  • Miskin Radio (North Kent College), North West Kent Gateway

Community radio stations are  licensed for a period of five years from the date of their launch. Miskin Radio will be licensed to broadcast on AM, and Sheppey FM will broadcast to the Isle of Sheppey – the 2nd community radio station on the Island although their focus is on the training and development of adults and young people with physical or mental health disabilities in the area.

Ofcom was satisfied that none of the new services would prejudice unduly the economic viability of any local analogue commercial radio service (section 105(3) of the BA 1990).


1 Brighton FM
1 Brighton FM will be a service for the general population of Brighton and Hove

1 Brighton FM will be a service for the general population of Brighton and Hove, and will feature a broad range of specialist music and community shows. Ofcom noted the group’s experience of broadcasting via the internet and the experience of individuals involved (such as in business, marketing, music, audio and website production), and was satisfied that it had demonstrated its ability to maintain the service. The group has a strong volunteer base, and partnerships in place with various community groups which participate in programme-making. Ofcom considered that 1 Brighton FM had built on these to propose workable arrangements for access to the station by the target community. It also has accountability proposals that the decision-makers were satisfied would allow volunteers and listeners to influence the direction of the station.


Gaydio will broadcast a service for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Brighton and Hove
Gaydio will broadcast a service for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Brighton and Hove

Gaydio will broadcast a service for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Brighton and Hove. Ofcom noted that members of the applicant group have experience from a range of areas including radio broadcasting, journalism, business and management, and that the applicant company is allied with another company broadcasting to the same target community elsewhere in the UK.  Ofcom considered that the service would broaden choice in relation to existing radio services available in the area by super-serving the LGBT community with a service including contemporary dance and pop music alongside a relatively high volume of LGBT-targeted speech content.



Platform b
Platform B will be a music-led station for young adults (aged 16-25 years old) in Brighton and Hove

Platform B will be a music-led station for young adults (aged 16-25 years old) in Brighton and Hove. Ofcom noted that members of the applicant group have experience of youth work, music, local broadcasting, finance, IT and digital media, which Ofcom considered would help enable Platform B to maintain its proposed service. The applicant will co-opt two people aged under-25 on to its board, and encourage volunteers to become members of the licence-holding company. It proposes a range of opportunities for access to the station, and also of collecting feedback from the target community to inform its decision-making.


Radio Cabin will be a radio station for the general population of Herne Bay, north east Kent
Radio Cabin will be a radio station for the general population of Herne Bay, north east Kent

Radio Cabin will be a radio station for the general population of Herne Bay, north east Kent. The applicant is a registered charity, formed many years ago, and has gained experience through hospital radio broadcasts in the past, as well as broadcasting via the internet and on temporary FM licences.  In Ofcom’s view, the group’s already established community links would help it to promote social cohesion by involving the target community. Ofcom noted that the applicant group already has a volunteer base, as well as a training team, and is experienced in training volunteers. Training will be available to both individuals and community groups.



Sheppey FM will be a station for adults and young people with physical or mental health disabilities in Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey
Sheppey FM will be a station for adults and young people with physical or mental health disabilities in Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey

Sheppey FM will be a station for adults and young people with physical or mental health disabilities in Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey. The applicant, Sheppey Matters, is a registered charity with experience of running outreach projects from its base at Sheppey Healthy Living Centre.   Ofcom noted that the applicant works with many partner organisations in the area.  It has experience of delivering training, which is a central part of Sheppey FM’s social gain proposals, as well as other benefits, such as promoting healthy living.


Miskin Radio will be a community radio service on the AM (medium wave) band for people living in the Gravesham, Dartford and Bexley areas
Miskin Radio will be for people living in the Gravesham, Dartford and Bexley areas

Miskin Radio will be a community radio service on the AM (medium wave) band for people living in the Gravesham, Dartford and Bexley areas. The applicant is North Kent College, and the station will be run by a separate radio members committee, reporting to the College’s senior leadership team. The service will operate from studios within the college, and Ofcom was satisfied that the service could be maintained. The applicant demonstrated a good level of support for the service, as well as links with local bodies.  Ofcom noted the applicant’s proposals for training, including introductory courses, as well as opportunities to train in different locations across the area.

New community radio licences awarded

Ofcom has announced the award of five new community radio licences in south east England covering Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and East Sussex.

The 5 new stations are:

Bexhill FM

Bexhill FM
Who will provide a service for the whole community in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex.


Hailsham FM

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Will be a service for the general population of Hailsham in East Sussex. Speaking via their twitter account the team said “We are hugely excited to announce that we have been awarded a 5 year FM community radio licence by today”

Red Kite Radio

Red Kite Radio

Will be for the people of Haddenham (Buckinghamshire) and Thame (Oxfordshire). Their website announced the winning bid by saying how they “won the five-year licence after convincing the body that this area deserves and can sustain a full time version of its successful Summerfest Radio broadcasts”.  General Manager of Red Kite Radio Pete MacFarlane told Haddenham.net “Summerfest Radio began nearly four years ago and has grown ever since, heavily supporting the beer festival which has grown significantly during the three summers we’ve been on the air”.  It is anticipated that Red Kite Radio will broadcast 24 hours a day with community news updates & information, interviews with community representatives, local people and organisations.

Witney Radio

Witney Radio

Will serve the community of Witney and surrounding villages in Oxfordshire.  The station tweeted their thanks to Ofcom via their twitter account and said “Proves all the hard work does pay off in the end and the community benefits are huge!”


Wycombe Sound

Wycombe Sound

Is for people aged 35 and over in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.  The station’s Managing Director Chris Phillips released a statement via their website stating “We’re all absolutely delighted. After completing three successful pop-up broadcasts we’re looking forward to putting the service onto a permanent footing. There’s so much going on in this town, we want to share all the good news coming from our community.”

Wycombe Sound will broadcast a mix of local interest interviews and features, together with local news and phone ins. There will be lots of great music too, plus specialist programmes and outside broadcasts.

Community Radio


Community radio services are provided on a not-for-profit basis, focusing on the delivery of specific social benefits to a particular geographical community or a community of interest.


10 years of community radio

Community radio, which offers thousands of volunteers the chance to get involved in broadcasting across the UK, is ten years old.

The last decade has seen the number of community radio stations increase from just a handful to more than 230 stations, each reflecting the local needs and interests of its audience.

In March, Ofcom announced its intention to simplify the way community radio stations record their Key Commitments. This revised approach reduces the administrative burden for licensees, and provides these stations greater flexibility to serve their target communities and deliver valuable social benefits.

Ten years of community radio in the UK

radio breakfast show

Community radio, which offers thousands of volunteers the chance to get involved in broadcasting across the UK, is now ten years old.

The last decade has seen the number of community radio stations increase from just a handful to more than 230 stations, each reflecting the local needs and interests of its audience.

Community radio is a not-for-profit sector, largely run by an army of 20,000 dedicated volunteers, who collectively work for around 2.5 million hours every year to bring original programming and locally-made content to listeners around the country.

Stations usually broadcast to everyone in a geographical area, but around a third tailor their output to serve a particular community– such as older people, or an ethnic or religious group.

Community radio stations typically cover a 5km radius, broadcasting on average 93 hours a week of original output. Many reflect a diverse mix of cultures and interests in their region. Stations also work within their community to offer a range of benefits such as training opportunities, work experience, local news and information resources.

Susan Williams, Community Radio Manager at Ofcom, said: “Community Radio stations have deep-rooted connections in their communities. Local people run these stations, producing content to inform and entertain their local community and offering real benefits like radio training.

“In ten years we’ve seen the sector grow in popularity, with large numbers of volunteers continuing to be involved and stations becoming a central part of communities up and down the country.”

The first station

Ofcom launched the first phase of community radio licensing back in September 2004 and received 200 applications for the firsScreen Shot 2015-11-27 at 12.08.02t licences. The first station to launch after this was The Eye in Melton Mowbray, which was recently honoured for its long-standing contribution to its local community.

The Eye has doubled its workforce in 10 years, with all staff volunteering their time. Other stations reaching their 10-year milestone in the coming weeks include Unity 101 in Southampton, Awaz FM in Glasgow, Angel Radio in Havant, Cross Rhythms City Radio in Stoke on Trent, and GTFM in Pontypridd.

Earlier this year Ofcom began trialling a new technological approach which could provide a more affordable way for smaller stations to broadcast on DAB digital radio, ensuring UK listeners could benefit from hundreds more local and community radio stations in the future.

Stroud FM Off Air

Stroud FM logo
Stroud FM logo

Sad news today – I heard that Stroud FM had ceased broadcasting due to a funding gap of £8,000.  The station launched it’s full time 107.9 FM schedule in 2008.

Since 2002, when the then Radio Authority licensed 15 so-called “Access Radio” stations, community radio has gone from strength to strength offering people in the local areas where they broadcast – something different to listen to – or not.  They offer choice.

Stroud FM broadcast area
Stroud FM broadcast area

It is this diversity of programming and choice that is on offer which make these community radio stations a rich addition to the often glossy but mundane non-stop, music pop; non-repeat, but all the same beat; non-interesting, ear blistering; 10 dull songs in a row groan-some guarantee.

I’m not saying there is not a place for glossy radio.  However, if I wanted to listen to non-stop music – I’d use iTunes.  When I need access to news – I don’t wait until the top of the hour – I go to the internet.  In fact, my iphone often reminds me how little texts I get by annoyingly beeping me news flashes – with my initial thought – wow someone’s texted me.

Any radio station is only as good as the content it pumps out – the stuff they do between the songs.  The great thing about community radio is that they genuinely try and fill the content gap between the glossy 10 in a row and make programmes that are that bit more local and a bit more unpolished.   From the local business to the zlist celebrity doing a one man/woman show in town – the beauty of community radio is in the voices that wouldn’t otherwise be heard.  And yes, it’s ok to get angry at the radio/radio presenter for what they say/don’t say.  That’s how we engage.

I visited Nottingham in January for a couple of days with my partner and we ended up in Manchester – at the weirdly opulent (money was sloshing around) Trafford Centre.  The one thing I noticed most when travelling?  That the radio stations I often landed on, and stuck with (range permitting), turned out to be community radio stations.   Of course, you can rightly point out that if that was the one thing that stuck out most on my journey –  I should get a bloody life and my partner should get another boyfriend.  With that, I cannot argue.

So, it is sad that another community radio station has hit the buffers and sank in the often choppy and vastly overwhelming funding ocean.  Ofcom is often good at initially supporting community radio stations – but most find that support dries up quicker than a free bar at a Scottish wedding – giving all an equal headache.


It’s pleasing to learn that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have started their community radio consultation to relax the current financial restrictions on community radio – and other things too.

Let’s hope that something good comes from the DCMS consultation and that it offers greater support to local radio stations that might be small in size when compared to their commercial counterparts – but punch well above their weight in ambition.

Whether or not the relaxing of finance rules would have saved stations like Stroud FM – I simply can’t judge.  I’ll leave it to station director Richard Joyce to give some insight into what led Stroud to do the one thing that sends a shudder down the spine of all radio station owners/managers – switching off the transmitter.

Speaking to local newspaper Stroud News Richard said “It’s been a really difficult time for community radio over recent years with grants getting smaller and smaller, making it very difficult to keep going. We were struggling to put plans together for the future and unfortunately it got to the point where we just couldn’t continue.”

Volunteers at Stroud FM