The Herald and swearing

A while back the Herald reported:

When is a swear word not a swear word?

When it is used on the Hollywood red carpet, says TVNZ.

Close-Up presenter Mark Sainsbury raised the question when he used the word “fugly” in a promotion for his show during Wednesday’s 6pm news. …

The utterance on prime-time television has prompted queries to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

But TVNZ says the word has become so popular it has lost its original sting and become a new term.

“Whilst a long time ago it might have been short for … two words … it is now being used regularly, particularly in entertainment circles, as simply an adjective. For example it is being used to describe an attitude or a dress,” said TVNZ news spokeswoman Andi Brotherston. …

Broadcasting Standards Authority chief executive Dominic Sheehan said the authority was flooded with hundreds of emails and phone calls after Mr Henry’s “retarded” comment, whereas “fugly” generated only two inquiries on Thursday.

People who contacted the authority to complain were told they needed to go through TVNZ’s internal complaints process first.

Mr Sheehan said “fugly” was not on the list of offensive words that were gathered in a recent survey of 1500 people, despite being commonly used.

“It is not even on anyone’s radar … – and they [survey respondents] have put a lot of words in there,” he said.

But he could not recall “fugly” being used during a news programme.

“This is new territory for us.”

“We haven’t tested the word and we have never had a complaint about it.”

Heh having someone complain about fugly is as amusing to me, as the fact someone complained about the use of the word “frack” on Battlestar Galactica.

I blogged last month the results of a survey on the acceptability of various swear words. This got me wondering how those survey results contrast with actual practices in media newsrooms.

So I e-mailed all major media outlets in NZ, asking them what their editorial policy was on each of the 31 swear words, on the following scale:

  • A This word/phrase would never be used on air/in our newspaper
  • B There are no restrictions on use of this word or phrase
  • C This word/phrase is not banned, but would only be used if essential to a story

Sadly only one media outlet responded. Thanks to the , who did respond, and their responses are below:

1. Cunt Herald: A
2. Nigger Herald: C
3. Mother Fucker Herald: A
4. Jesus Fucking Christ Herald: A
5. Cocksucker Herald: A
6. Get fucked Herald: A
7. Fuck off Herald: A
8. Fuck Herald: A
9. Faggot Herald: B
10. Cock Herald: C
11. Retard Herald: B
12. Slut Herald: C
13. Whore Herald: B
14. Wanker Herald: B
15. Arsehole Herald: C
16. Jesus Christ Herald: C
17. Dick Herald: B
18. Prick Herald: C
19. Jesus Herald: B, but C if used as an expletive
20. Piss Herald: C
21. Bitch Herald: B
22. God Herald: B
23. Piss off Herald: C
24. Bastard Herald: B
25. Shit Herald: C
26. Balls Herald: B
27. Bullshit Herald: C
28. Crap Herald: B
29. Bollocks Herald: B
30. Bloody Herald: B
31. Bugger Herald: B

These are listed in the order of acceptability as the BSA survey found them.

So the Herald has a total ban on seven words or phrases, generally those using the cunt, cock or fuck.

14 of the 31 words have no restriction on their use. Mainly those at the lower end of the scale, but including retard (Paul Henry take note), faggot, whore and wanker. Of course that does not mean they will go out of their way to use them.

10 of the 31 words are in the category of only would be used if essential to a story – that is likely to be direct quotes from some one. This includes nigger, cock, slut, Jesus Christ, and shit.

The Herald also provided a couple of useful examples of when they might go outside their normal policy:

The Herald might allow words such as “fuck” in direct quotes if uttered by, for example, a member of the royal family or the Prime Minister, because that use would, in itself, be newsworthy.

That makes sense to me. John Key had better watch his language then 🙂

In our first reports of 9/11, we allowed the word “fucking” in the front-page lead: “Shortly after the first attack, a person who answered the phone on the trading floor at interdealer-broker Cantor Fitzgerald, near the top of the World Trade Center, said ‘We’re fucking dying,’ when asked what was happening, and hung up.”

Again, I think that is a sensible exception. I doubt anyone would be offended by direct reporting of those quotes, considering the circumstances. They help convey the atmosphere in a way, which asterisks would not have.

It is a shame, other media outlets did not respond. It would be very interesting to compare their different policies. Again my thanks to the Herald for being so open.

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