Ofcom tells UK radio to knock off off-color content


The British version of the FCC – Ofcom – said radio listeners are not expecting harsh content on the medium during the day, even if children are unlikely to be present in a particular audience, and it’s telling stations to stay away from offensive language and material involving sexual themes and the use of illicit drugs.

According to reports, broadcasters were advised, “Radio broadcasters should avoid broadcasting lyrics that clearly focus on the taking of drugs, sexual acts or behaviour, or convey a clearly sexualised theme, when children are particularly likely to be listening.”

One station was admonished for playing a song from Fatboy Slim that contained 41 repeats of a particular phrase, commonly abbreviated WTF in the US. There were other incidents of concern as well.

Ofcom warned that the it wanted broadcasters to keep the material clean, whether it was in music, in comedy material or in the spoken language of radio air talent.

The reports did note that a concert featuring the Black Eyed Peas was broadcast under the auspices of BBC earlier in the year and contained offensive language, but it was not subject to the agency’s objections and warnings. It may have been in part because the concert started after Ofcom’s idea of when children are likely to be listening, at 7:50PM. According to the report, BBC also took measure to head off most of the possible offending material and issued warnings about possible offensive material prior to the broadcast.

It noted times before and after school as those of most concern when school is in session, 6AM-9AM and 3PM-7PM, and the entire time – 6AM-7PM – when school is out.

RBR-TVBR observation: We note that UK broadcasters were not held to account for material that took place during a concert broadcast in which they had no direct control over the artists.

If the FCC and Congress had handled the Janet Jackson incident that way, consistent with precedent in the US, rather than going ballistic, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the fine structure the suddenly abandoning the need for intentional and repeated broadcast of offensive material as a basis for punitive action, then perhaps the FCC’s entire indecency enforcement structure wouldn’t be under question as it is now.