The Broadcasting Standards Council's annual report, published yesterday, shows that complaints about bad language rose by 60 per cent to 235, during the year ending 31 March, causing concern for the third year running.
Elspeth Howe, who chairs the Government-appointed watchdog, said at a press conference in London: 'The broadcasters have not taken notice. I like to think what's happening is a bit of a fashion, not a deliberate policy, Maybe they (the broadcasters) haven't seen it as an issue.'
Lady Howe said that in many cases using bad language was unnecessary and debased the English language. An appropriate use was when swear words were used as a dramatic device, a means of indicating potential violence.
The council is also worried about the upsurge in complaints about screen violence, especially about scenes depicting violence and sex. It points to the danger of giving 'crime an undue prominence in the schedules, upsetting the overall balance of material', and is also continuing to point out the dangers of dramatised crime reconstructions. During the year it censured both the BBC and ITV for their coverage of the James Bulger case.
The council, which has a remit to handle complaints about sex, violence, taste and decency, reported a sharp increase in complaints to 2,390 (compared with 2,023), of which 1,711 were within its remit - up 26 per cent on the previous year. Some 49 per cent were from women, 48 per cent from men and 3 per cent from couples.
The largest single category of complaints were about bad taste. The council says this increase does not neccessarily reflect falling standards - though the public is clearly concerned about violence - but is an indication of the willingness to complain. Complaints have risen about programmes screened before the 9pm watershed.
The rise also demonstrates that the BSC, operating in its sixth year, is becoming better known. The upward trend has also reported by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, which handles complaints about inaccuracy, unfairness and privacy, and the Independent Television Commission.
The council also points to a significant rise in complaints about lapses of taste in radio programmes, and the increased use of sex in television and radio commercials. It is currently carrying out research into radio, and is considering whether it should also be covered by some form of watershed, to protect children.
Broadcasting Standards Council, Annual Report 1994; 7 The Sanctuary, London SW1P 3JS; pounds 4.