Bleeping out swearwords 'must be done effectively', Ofcom research finds
Bleeping out swearwords repeatedly has minimum effectiveness, a study carried out by the broadcasting watchdog has found.
Ofcom has undertaken research into attitudes towards potentially offensive language and gestures in broadcasting, the biggest study of its kind carried out by the regulator.
It found that viewers believe that the 9pm watershed remains vital in protecting audiences from offensive material.
While bleeping out offensive language made the use of swearwords more acceptable before the watershed, Ofcom said it should not be "excessive".
"Repeated bleeping can simply draw attention to the amount of strong language, especially for children," it said.
The report added: "Bleeping must be done effectively. Some participants were of the view that bleeping is sometimes not done well or consistently, and audiences could make out the language used, so largely negating the value of the bleeping."
The research found that most people would often understand which word was being substituted, and so the effect was similar to using the actual word itself, especially if repeated.
The report also looked at swearing substitutes, such as the word "feck" in the hit sitcom Father Ted.
"Many found it unacceptable pre-watershed because of the repeated use of 'fupp' and 'feck', which was considered gratuitous," the report said.
Some older viewers thought the scene contained actual swearing.
Participants in the study viewed an episode broadcast on More4 before the watershed at 8pm.
In August The Jeremy Kyle Show was found to have breached broadcasting guidelines when sound was dipped to mask offensive language around 130 times on a Sunday before the watershed.
The report found that sexual terms were viewed as distasteful and often unnecessary and provoked the same reaction as general swear words, but were more acceptable if used after the watershed.
It also said that, after the watershed, swearing in hard-hitting dramas was more acceptable than in other TV genres as the participants expected the dialogue to reflect real-life use of offensive language and gestures.
Viewers did not expect to hear any strong language on flagship channels BBC1 or ITV before the watershed.
Ofcom said that its research showed that viewers and listeners are now less tolerant of racist or discriminatory words.
The watchdog looked at 144 words, exploring what people were likely to find unacceptable, and the reasons they were judged to be offensive.
For the first time the regulator, which last examined the topic in 2010, looked at six offensive physical gestures.
Ofcom has published a reference guide to offensive words and gestures for broadcasters, with each word listed and how viewers perceive them.
A spokesperson for Ofcom said: "Today's research will help inform Ofcom's decisions during its investigations of TV and radio programmes that have included potentially offensive language."