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Wednesday 29 Oct 2014

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BBC publishes taste and standards report

The BBC today publishes its report Taste, Standards And The BBC: Public Attitudes To Morality, Values And Behaviour In UK Broadcasting.

The report is informed by the most exhaustive piece of audience research the BBC has ever undertaken in this area, also published in full today.

Independently conducted by Professor Sonia Livingstone, Ipsos MORI and the Blinc Partnership, and speaking to close to 2,700 people across the country, it provides the most comprehensive, up-to-date guidance for programme-makers at the BBC and across the broadcasting industry.

The report focuses on the use of strong language, sexual content, standards of behaviour and audience expectations of the BBC and other broadcasters.

The research involved people of all age ranges from 11 upwards discussing a wide range of programmes, including comedy, entertainment, documentary and drama.

The report was commissioned by the BBC Executive in response to a request from the BBC Trust and is sponsored by Jana Bennett, Director, BBC Vision, and David Jordan, Director of Editorial Policy.

It was authored by Alan Yentob, BBC Creative Director, and Roly Keating, BBC Director of Archive Content.

A full copy of the report and the research is available at:

Key findings from the new research include:

  • Issues of taste and standards in the media specifically are not a top-of-mind concern for the majority of audiences but they are worried about standards of behaviour in society generally. (14% of respondents felt concerned about programmes on TV in terms of morality, values and standards of behaviour, while 50% felt concerned about behaviour in society generally on this issue [1]).
  • Where audiences are concerned about the area of taste and morality on television as a whole, it emerged in the qualitative research that this is often connected with broader concerns about falling standards in terms of quality and the over-reliance on reality formats.
  • Strong language on TV is an area of concern for a sizeable proportion of respondents – 33% of respondents in the quantitative survey mentioned it unprompted [1]. From the qualitative research, it was clear that the audience recognise when language is used for clear purpose or effect within a programme but dislike unnecessary or gratuitous use. When strong language is combined with aggressive or bullying behaviour its potential for offence is compounded.
  • Context – including channel/time/slot/performer – is of paramount importance when it comes to judging potentially offensive content.
  • The majority value creativity and the BBC's right to potentially offend. (In the quantitative survey, 70% of respondents strongly or tended to agree with the phrase "creativity, new talent or innovative programmes should be encouraged even if some people might take offence", while 12% strongly or tended to disagree; 61% strongly or tended to agree that "the BBC should not be afraid to show material that some people might find offensive", while 23% strongly or tended to disagree [1]).
  • The audience value regulation but the majority of the audience sees it as primarily its own responsibility to avoid uncomfortable or potentially offensive content (and the responsibility of parents or guardians in the case of children). The majority of the audience does want broadcasters to give it clear warnings around such content.
  • Audiences have higher expectations of the BBC than other broadcasters in terms of taste and standards and, in general, the BBC performs well compared to other channels and broadcasters. (68% of respondents were very or fairly satisfied with standards on television generally, and 74% were very or fairly satisfied with BBC television. BBC One and Two are clearly seen to have high standards – 61% and 56% respectively – significantly ahead of other terrestrial, satellite and cable channels with only a small minority of respondents – 15% and 6% respectively – saying that they need to improve [1]).
  • In the qualitative research, it emerged that the audience is aware of, and becoming concerned by, the challenges around taste and standards presented by the growth of online and time shifted-content. However, there was little awareness of the BBC's guidance systems or understanding that BBC iPlayer has a parent password protection scheme.

Following the research the BBC has made a series of recommendations including:

  • The BBC's Editorial Policy department should use the new research to inform the ongoing revision of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
  • Greater care should be taken over programmes transferring from one channel to another, especially to BBC One. Careful consideration is to be given to adaptations of tone or format if necessary.
  • There should be new guidance on malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation – to ensure that everyone involved in programme-making understands that such behaviours are unacceptable.
  • There should be a clearer policy on the bleeping of strong language and clearer audience information and warnings generally.
  • There should be a major campaign to raise awareness of the content guidance and child protection mechanisms on BBC iPlayer.
  • In music radio, editorial teams should be reminded that particular care needs to be taken at certain times of the day, such as school runs, when different generations may be listening together.
  • More regular audience research should be undertaken to ensure that the BBC stays closely in touch with audiences' expectations, opinions and reactions.
  • New training materials exploring audience attitudes to all key genres should be developed and rolled out to in-house and independent programme-makers.

Jana Bennett, Director of BBC Vision, said: "I welcome the opportunity the report has given us to talk to our diverse audiences right across the country.

"People value innovation, ambition and quality; they also expect a strong presence from producers, guiding both the editorial and creative judgements around challenging material.

"We will be sharing our findings with programme-makers throughout the broadcast industry."

Alan Yentob, Creative Director, BBC, and co-author of the report, said: "At a time when the media landscape is increasingly crowded and fragmented, we felt it was vital to place audiences at the heart of the debate.

"We have listened carefully to them and will ensure that their insight feeds into the thinking around our programme making and our editorial guidelines."

Notes to Editors

[1] Ipsos MORI, 2,206 adults aged 16+

In November 2008 the BBC Trust asked the BBC Executive to consider how the BBC should deal with questions of generally accepted standards in its output.

The BBC's Director-General Mark Thompson tasked a senior pan-BBC group (sponsored by Jana Bennett, Director BBC Vision, and David Jordan, Director of Editorial Policy) to lead an in-depth piece of work exploring the BBC's approach to questions of taste and standards within the media landscape.

The research comprised:

  • A review of existing research and literature on taste and standards carried out by Professor Sonia Livingstone.
  • In-depth Qualitative Research including a range of large-scale audience discussion sessions, interviews with families in their own homes, interviews with community leaders (over 250 people).
  • Two Ipsos MORI surveys which were conducted across the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) between 7 and 25 March 2009, one among a quota sample of 2,206 adults aged 16 years and over, and the other among 237 young people aged 11-15 years old. All interviews were conducted face-to-face, in home, and the data was weighted to match the profile of the two populations.

Professor Sonia Livingstone (BSc Psychology, UCL; DPhil Social Psychology, Oxford) is Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is author or editor of 14 books and numerous academic articles and chapters on children, young people and the internet; television audiences – internet use and policy; public understanding of communications regulation; and research methods in media and communications.

DP/BBC Press Office

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