Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 16:54 UK

Call over taste after Radio 2 row

Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand
Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand both apologised for their behaviour

The BBC should issue new guidance on "malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation" in the wake of the Radio 2 prank calls row, a BBC report says.

And greater care should be taken when programmes are moved to more mainstream channels, it adds.

The corporation's conclusions are based on "the most exhaustive piece of audience research the BBC has ever undertaken" on tastes and standards.

It included surveys and discussions with nearly 2,700 people.


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The BBC Trust ordered the review of acceptable standards following the row over obscene phone messages left for the actor Andrew Sachs by Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand.

The report - written by BBC creative director Alan Yentob and director of archive content Roly Keating - calls for clear guidelines on intrusion, intimidation and humiliation to "to ensure that everyone involved in programme making understands that such behaviours are unacceptable".

"While they are all aspects of human behaviour which may need to be depicted, described or discussed across the BBC's factual and non-factual output, they must never be celebrated for the purposes of entertainment," the report adds.

'Higher expectations'

Alan Yentob: "BBC should continue to take risks"

Of 2,206 adults aged over 16 questioned for an Ipsos Mori survey, 33% of respondents mentioned without prompting that they were concerned about strong language on TV.

From the same survey it emerged that:

• Broadcasting standards were "not a top-of-mind concern" for most people - 14% felt concerned about standards of behaviour on TV compared to 50% who were concerned about standards of behaviour in society generally

• 70% thought the BBC should encourage creativity even if some people might take offence

• 61% thought the BBC should not be afraid to show material that some people found offensive

• Audiences had higher expectations of the BBC than other broadcasters

• 68% were satisfied with standards on TV generally, rising to 74% on BBC television

The 'twinkle in the eye' of a performer and their delivery skills can make even potentially offensive material acceptable

BBC Vision director Jana Bennett said the report had given the BBC the chance to "talk to our diverse audiences right across the country".

"People value innovation, ambition and quality," she said.

"People also expect a strong presence from producers, guiding both the editorial and creative judgements around challenging material."

The report says more care should be taken when transferring programmes from one channel to another - especially to BBC One - where the audience has different expectations.

"Careful consideration is to be given to adaptations of tone or format if necessary," it adds.

Bleeping policy

Chris Moyles
Young people "value BBC Radio 1 highly", the report said

The report also calls for clearer warnings and guidance about programme content on air, and says there should be better promotion of the mechanisms in place to protect children on the BBC's iPlayer catch-up service.

It calls for a clearer policy on bleeping out swear words, saying that, in some instances, where "a sequence that is editorially necessary happens to contain the strongest language, it may be right to bleep or disguise the words - even after the watershed".

It also says young audiences value "strong personalities" and that young people "value BBC Radio 1 highly".

Torin Douglas
Torin Douglas, Media correspondent

For a survey prompted by thousands of complaints over a radio programme, it reveals little public concern about radio.

The public's biggest worry is about swearing on TV - named by 33% of those who responded. Violence on TV is mentioned by 23%, sex on TV by 21%. Just 7% say they are concerned about swearing on radio and 3% about sex. Violence on the radio doesn't figure at all.

Yet the BBC does flag up one area of concern - the school run. In music radio, it says, particular care is needed at certain times of the day "when different generations may be listening together".

It might have added - Chris Moyles, please note.

That being the case, it continues, "particular care needs to be taken at times of day such as school runs when different generations may be listening together".

A further 237 youngsters, aged 11 to 15, were also questioned as part of the research and more than 250 people, including families in their own homes and community leaders, were also involved in "a range of large scale audience discussion sessions".

Existing research on taste and standards was also compiled and evaluated by expert Professor Sonia Livingstone.

The report says the research indicated that audiences recognised when language was used for "clear purpose or effect" and disliked "unnecessary or gratuitous use".

"When strong language is combined with aggressive or bullying behaviour, its potential for offence is compounded," it added.

In a response to the report, BBC Trustee David Liddiment said:

"Ensuring audiences aren't exposed to unnecessarily offensive content, while guarding against stifling creativity, is a balancing act. Audiences clearly expect the highest standards from the BBC - and BBC One in particular.

"The Trust is determined that those standards are met and the new research and the commentary published today will help deliver this."

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