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Five separate complaints over use of 'f*ck', 'sh*t' and 'Jesus Christ' rejected by watchdog

In all five cases, the complaints were made by the same person.

Image: Shutterstock/radioshoot

THE BROADCASTING AUTHORITY of Ireland (BAI) has rejected five complaints made about the use of bad language which the complainant said in some of the specified cases was used “without apology ” on the national airwaves.

The Executive Complaints Forum of the BAI considered and rejected 12 complaints in meetings held in January and February of this year.

Among the twelve were five complaints made by the same person over programmes on Newstalk, Today FM, and RTÉ. 

In all five cases, the complaints were submitted under principles one, four and five of the Code of Programme Standards.

The Code requires that broadcasters should have respect for community standards, be mindful of the needs of children and have respect for persons and groups in society. 

The first complaint relates to the use of the word shitty on Newstalk’s Moncrieff on 13 December 2019.

The complainant claimed that he tuned into the programme at the end of an audio clip from a film featuring Ryan Reynolds. Following the clip, Moncrieff stated: “I love the way I’m allowed to say ‘shitty’ but Ryan Reynolds isn’t”. 

He said he found the use of the word offensive and objectionable, especially given the time of day “when children might reasonably be expected to be listening”. 

In response, Newstalk acknowledged that the complainant was offended but did not consider that the use of the word shitty contravenes the Code when used on a one-off basis and considered in context.

The BAI ruled in favour of Newstalk, noting that the programme and segment are aimed at an adult audience who are likely to be familiar with the tone and content of this regular segment. 

‘Without apology’ 

Three of the five complaints about the language used on the airwaves were in relation to programmes on RTÉ radio. 

The first was about the language used on the Jennifer Zamparelli show on 2FM during a discussion with a reporter about the Kardashians on 13 November 2019.

The complainant claimed the word shit was used on two separate occasions, while the words Jesus Christ and God were also used as swear words, “without any apology being made”.

The complainant contended that later in the programme the presenter warned two phone-in guests that they were live on-air and stated that they should not curse. The presenter repeated this later in the programme when one of the guests said shit.  

In response to the complaint, RTÉ said that the word was used inadvertently by the programme’s entertainment reporter when she was using a phrase which contains the profanity. 

“The broadcaster states that the language and phraseology was used in the course of a conversation and it was not the intention of either the presenter or the reporter to cause offence. However, the broadcaster acknowledges that the comment did offend the complainant and states that the complainant’s concerns were shared with the editorial team,” the report notes. 

The BAI’s Executive Complaints Forum noted that the language was offensive to the complainant, however, the Forum did not consider that it caused undue offence. 

“The Forum considered the programme in the context of the likely audience, the station and programme type and determined that the content did not infringe the Codes as presented by the complainant. As such, the complaint was rejected.“  

The second complaint related to the language used during a discussion on bullying on Liveline on 13 November 2019. 

The complainant took issue with the word shit and the use of a clip of a malicious message, re-recorded by an actor, originally sent to a person on snapchat.

The complainant states that while the name of the person was bleeped out on several instances, the words bitch and fuck were uncensored. 

RTÉ said the clip originated as part of a longer recording done by a young boy, which was then sent to a 15-year-old girl. An editorial decision was taken to include the clip as it “demonstrated the nature of the material which is on social media and was relevant to the debate”. 

RTÉ added that since Liveline is a live programme in which listeners often give frank accounts of their experiences, sometimes “course language” is used to describe sensitive issues. 

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The BAI sided with RTÉ and did not consider that the broadcast infringed the Code of Programme Standards or cause undue offence. 

The third complaint relates to the language used on RTÉ Radio 1’s Arena on 21 January during a discussion on the career of political satirist and producer, Armando Iannucci. 

The complainant takes issue with the inclusion of several uncensored uses of the word fuck during an extract from a programme Iannucci created, called The Thick of It.  

In response, RTÉ stated that Arena is an arts and culture programme and it believes that, given the genre, listeners understand that art often contains language which some people find challenging adding that a warning of bad language was given prior to broadcast.

The complaint was rejected by the BAI after it considered that Arena is broadcast between 7-8pm on weekdays, is aimed at an adult audience, and a prior was given. 

The final complaint was made in relation to language used during a discussion on songs used by political parties during election time on Today FM’s The Last Word. 

“A clip was played from a campaign video made by a former TD and now MEP, featuring several of their contributions during their time in Dáil Éireann. The complainant states that the clip contained the word fuck. The complainant objects to this word being repeated six or seven times without any censorship,” the report states. 

Today FM said that a warning was issued in advance of airing and that the clip was part of a wider topic concerning Irish Election Songs.  

In its rejection of this complaint, the BAI was of the view that the music segment is a regular feature on The Last Word and audiences would be familiar with the adult-nature of the programme. It noted that a warning had been issued prior to the clip which contained bad language.

“The Forum was mindful that the language used was offensive to the complainant, however, it noted that there is no guarantee that programme material will be free from offence. The Forum considered the type of programme, the time of broadcast and the inclusion of prior warnings and did not find the content to be unduly offensive.”

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Adam Daly

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