Broadcasting discriminatory comments or showing the discriminatory treatment of minorities, particularly of those that are vulnerable, may give rise to widespread offence, at any time of day. The Code states that any such discriminatory treatment or language "... for example on the grounds of age, disability, gender, race, religion, beliefs and sexual orientation ..." must be justified by the context. You should note that material of this nature could also be subject to other legal restrictions (including the criminal law). If you have any queries, please contact your commissioning editor and programme lawyer at the earliest opportunity. Below are some of the more common areas where problems can arise.
Nothing transmitted should be intended to stir up racial hatred or, taking into account the circumstances, be likely to do so.
Racist terms should be avoided, as should insensitive comments or stereotypical portrayals of particular ethnic groups, unless justified editorially and by the context of the programme. For example, viewers are likely to accept footage of racist behaviour and language in a current affairs programme exposing and clearly condemning racism but, perhaps, less so in a reality show or discussion programme where an individual is effectively seen as having a platform to promote racist views without being properly challenged.
Some viewers find the use of the most racially offensive words such as 'nigger' and 'paki' unacceptable and offensive in any context. Viewers may still be caused considerable offence, even where the person who uses the word has no racist intent, for example the use of the 'n-word' in a rap song. Advice should be sought from the legal and compliance department.
Even where editorially justified, an appropriate flagging or warning that a programme contains racially offensive behaviour or language may be necessary.
Comments or jokes at the expense of people's disabilities are likely to cause widespread offence and be unacceptable. Such humour can be offensive to many, even where no malice is present.
Unless editorially justified, patronising or outdated derogatory expressions relating to disability, for example cripple, spastic, midget should also be avoided and replaced with more neutral terms, for example disabled person, person with cerebral palsy, dwarf.
Stereotyping disabilities or medical conditions is likely to be problematic, for example stereotyping people with the condition Tourette’s as constantly swearing; or the casual use of words like "schizophrenic" to mean "in two minds" can also cause offence. The inclusion of material at the expense of people with disabilities must be justified editorially and by the context.
As with ethnic minorities and the disabled, the casual or insensitive use of offensive terms, such as 'poof', 'dyke', 'queer' or 'tranny', can cause serious offence, regardless of intention. In addition, use of the word 'gay' as a negative adjective can cause offence, even where none is intended.
Religion and religious beliefs are very important to many viewers and care should be taken with any material that might amount to an abusive or derogatory treatment of the religious views and beliefs of those belonging to a particular religion.
There is, of course, scope for valid criticism, negative comment and humour based on or concerning many aspects of religion but it should always be justifiable editorially and by the context. Care needs to be taken not simply to undermine or ridicule central religious beliefs.
Similar considerations apply to the treatment of other minority groups within programmes, for example older people and minority language groups. As with race, disability, sexuality or religion, there is some latitude for comments or humour based on or around these groups but where comments are made, programme-makers and broadcasters must consider the potential of the comments to cause offence. Any offence should be justifiable on editorial grounds and by the context.
The most recent research of Ofcom into current attitudes to potentially offensive language and gestures on TV can be found here.