I recently watched a BBC News report on the “Golden Globes”. I’m not normally concerned about these events and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but something caught my attention. There was a clip of Ricky Gervais – then a comment, “That is all we are able to show on television, but you can see the whole thing online!”.
Because it was his fifth and final time to host the award show, Gervais said he didn’t care anymore. He warned the guests that he was going to have a laugh at their expense. "Remember, they’re just jokes." he added. For good measure he threw in several expletives.
That got me thinking about the kind of language that is acceptable on television and, indeed, in public spaces. Ofcom publishes a Broadcasting Code which sets standards for broadcasters to follow. Part of this code is “the watershed” – to protect children from harmful or unsuitable material. Does it still operate?
Indeed it does. Ofcom says the watershed is to stop “unsuitable material” being broadcast between 5:30am and 9:00pm. This includes “everything from sexual content to violence, graphic or distressing imagery and swearing. … the most offensive language must not be broadcast before the watershed on TV … ”.
Ofcom conducts twice-yearly surveys asking both parents and the wider public what they think of standards on TV. The results show that almost everyone understands the watershed and three out of four people think that 9:00pm is the right time for it to be applied. But perhaps we should question whether so-called “jokes” at the expense of others and more extensive swearing in public is harmful only to children. I believe all of society suffers.
Various measures are in place in different parts of the world to curtail abusive language. In Philippine city of Baguio a law was passed in 2018 to prohibit cursing and profanity in areas frequented by children. While in the Salford Quays area of Manchester, a public spaces protection order outlaws the use of “foul and abusive language”. In 2015 the US city of Myrtle Beach passed a law that makes profane language punishable with fine up to $500 and/or 30 days in jail. An amount of $22,000 was collected from these fines in 2017 alone.
But what about a more positive approach? The Bible may help: some may remember words of the AV from our schooldays, “Let your speech be … seasoned with salt.” – just as salt in our food brings out the flavour. In several of Paul’s New Testament letters, he gives advice for Godly living to those to whom he writes. “Speak the truth in love”, he says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, … be kind to each other”
In Psalm 1 (in just 6 short verses) we see a contrast between the wicked, sinners and mockers whose worthless words will be scattered by the wind and those who speak after meditating on God’s word which brings life and fruit each season.
Let’s try to speak positive words which build up rather than shout out damaging words fuelled by rage and anger.