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Blasphemy offends TV viewers

Television broadcasters are not aware of the potential offence caused by "God", "Almighty", and "Jesus Christ" when they are used as swear words, the Broadcasting Standards Council warned yesterday.

Publishing its annual survey, the council said research showed viewers were upset byunjustified swear words, with 57 per cent arguing there was "too much" bad language on television. Bad language occurred in just under half prime-time programmes on terrestrial television last year and four out of five programmes on monitored satellite stations, the BSC noted.

Particular offence was caused by use of swear words before the 9pm watershed. Lady Howe, who chairs the BSC, said: "We very much want to have discussions with the broadcasters about this so that we can explain to them and discuss together just what is going on."

The council has identified the words "God", "Almighty", "Jesus Christ", "Holy Mother", "Christ" and "Hell" as potential bad language. "Maybe broadcasters don't realise the danger of offence that they cause," Lady Howe said.

Her deputy chairman, Lord Dubs, said although people of strong religious belief were a minority, "people are unhappy that this minority group is being offended and hurt". Drama, films and alternative comedy programmes were singled out as frequent offenders.

The BSC warning follows an interview with the Men Behaving Badly actor Martin Clunes, in which he said he believed that in 10 years' time people would be saying the "F-word" on children's television.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, Mary Whitehouse, of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, has written to the Director of Public Prosecutions demanding that the BBC be charged over the use of a four-letter word in Dennis Potter's penultimate play Karaoke.

But Lord Dubs said context and audience expectations were important. "There are moments of high tension which are seen by audiences to justify the use of bad language." Whereas if a swear word suddenly appeared in a soap, people would be offended, he added.

The number of viewers surveyed who said there was too much violence on television fell from 66 per cent in 1994 to 57 per cent last year.

More than half of the 1,000 respondents (58 per cent) said there was the "right amount" of sexual activity on television.Last year around 21 per cent of programmes contained sex.

8Monitoring Report 1995 No 4; Broadcasting Standards Council; pounds 10.