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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 12:37 GMT
Is TV becoming too crude?
Recent TV shows have been accused of becoming too smutty in a bid to win viewers.

The BBC has apologised after 500 viewers complained about sexual comments made by the actor Rupert Everett during Saturday's show "One Night with Robbie Williams".

Chat show hosts Frank Skinner, Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton have also been accused of being too crude and swearing too much on television.

Have TV standards fallen to a new low in a cynical attempt to boost ratings? Or are TV programmes merely reflecting society's increasingly liberal attitudes?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

We are so influenced by the box in the corner that it actually drives society

Gerry, Scotland
I would love to say that TV shows are simply reflecting society, however, truth be told, we are so influenced by the box in the corner that it actually drives society.
Gerry, Scotland

Almost all of the so called Adult material on TV and elsewhere would have been referred to as Childish material a few decades ago. As the standard of education in this country falls, year upon year, the behaviour of the masses now never rises above that expected of a ten year old in the nineteen fifties. They are to be pitied, not blamed, for watching this drivel.
Dave, England

Most participants think that TV ought to REFLECT society...which is fair enough is these changes are natural. However, does not TV itself change society too? Hence, I believe some sort of quality control is more than necessary.
Alain D, France

What annoys me is not adult language being used in adult programmes, but the rubbish and depressing innuendo used in pre-watershed 'family' comedy. Hardly an episode of My Family or Kiss Me Kate seems to go by without some 'ooh er' joke or a tedious bit of innuendo (*lots* of references to Hob Nobs). Let's have adult comedy in adult timeslots and proper family comedy in family timeslots.
Steve Williams, North Wales

The sad people who have got nothing better to do than complain about what is on TV (which, by the way, is designed around what people actually want to watch - I hardly think a self-respecting TV network is going to show something that it thinks nobody will watch!) should get a life, and also pick up a copy of their TV's manual and find out which button switches it off - because if they don't want to watch it, they only have to press the button. We all pay out TV license (in the UK anyway) and subscription fees, so why should TV be oriented solely around the views of people who like writing letters to big organisations complaining about anything just so they gain some feeling of importance. Get a life!
Matt, London, UK

Is television not less offensive now than during the blatantly racist and sexist era of the likes of Alf Garnet, Love Thy Neighbour, Benny Hill and such like. Television now may portray a grittier (read - more realistic) side to life, but it rarely if ever now commits derisory racist or sexist comments in an attempt to raise cheap laughs.
Murray de Schot, Netherlands/ex-Scotland

TV has become too smutty. Why? Because it's all about making money and not giving a single thought to how horrible we are making this world for "our children", the next generation. If the smut was taken off the TV, we wouldn't really miss it and it would only be a positive, nice step forward.
Nicole, UK

I have a mind of my own and watch what I want to watch

Lucy, England
For my televisual pleasure I watch informative programmes such as 'Walking with Beasts' and 'The Blue Planet'. I like to watch 'Question Time' and 'Time Team'. I do, however, also like a good bit of toilet humour and therefore watch Graham Norton et al. I have a mind of my own and watch what I want to watch on the television, not what somebody tells me to watch. If I don't agree with something, I have the power to change the channel or switch the television off. Some of the people commenting here make it sound as if they are manacled to the chair and made to watch stuff they don't agree with!
Lucy, England

The problem is there are no actual standards for what is allowable! If you disagree, then find me one.
Bill, UK

Swearing on TV is only part of the wider issue - I got so used to finding nothing worth watching on television, nothing at all thought-provoking that I stopped watching TV altogether. Television still tries to 'entertain' but is forgetting to educate and inform which is a pity as the latter categories can be entertaining too.
Tim Saunders, New Zealand (recently UK)

I have heard worse conversations walking down the street

Rachel MacPherson, London
I have heard worse conversations walking down the street. It only takes a second to turn the telly over!
Rachel MacPherson, London

In Portugal competition between TV stations also leads to a loss of values in what comes to sexual image and violent programmes. Also, cartoons nowadays are too violent. This kind of programme can lead to behaviour disorders. The Government has provided measures to restrict the sexual images in reality shows such as Big Brother.
Lurdes, Paula and Vera, Portugal

Personally I find Sunday evening television to be severely marred by the presence of "Songs of Praise" but you don't see me complaining about it! People who have nothing better to do than be upset by something on the television that they CHOOSE to watch, really do need to get out there and find a life!
Jenny, UK

There are some shows on daytime TV that I wouldn't want any child of mine to watch

Christine, UK
I don't mind the language used by Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton in their chat shows. It's really just the way people speak now that we have less taboos. But when it comes to certain TV series and films, I choose not to watch them because I know that I'll find some part of them offensive. I'm an adult so I can make that decision, just as other adults can make the decision to watch the very shows I don't.

However, there are some shows on daytime TV (even shows specifically for kids) that I wouldn't want any child of mine to watch. And that's when parents have to be responsible adults and not just park the kids in front of the telly, but to check out what they're watching. And the same goes for the VCR. If your child wants to record something that's on after their bedtime it would be a good idea to check it out. That's not too difficult now, is it?
Christine, UK

It's no coincidence that all other European countries, which all have significantly more explicit, smutty and rude television programmes than the UK, have significantly lower teenage pregnancy rates. "Reasonable levels of crudeness" - and I believe most programmes on TV at present are "reasonable" - do much to help break down the taboo attached to sex and relationships in British society. If you can't find it funny, you aren't finding it enjoyable.
Duncan, UK

There is more to life than television....

Alastair Gregory, Scotland, UK
I'm constantly amazed that television manufacturers have got away with not supplying an "off" switch to their products for so long. Perhaps this is one for Watchdog as we are all forced to watch the entire programmes in question before deciding "I didn't like it". There is more to life than television....
Alastair Gregory, Scotland, UK

Different things make people laugh, different things interest people. In our new multi channel society, there is plenty of airtime for everyone to find whatever they want. I could never spend hours in front of UK Gold, but I know that my Gran loves to. Graham Norton makes me roar and I know that my Gran likes him too! Our society needs to loosen up and stop trying to control what everybody "should do" or "should show" or "should watch". Let's explore and celebrate diversity (especially as there are enough channels for it) between our births and deaths!
Richard Newbury, UK

Many of us have given up thinking about what we watch, what we do and what kind of world we live in

Ed Manning, UK
Much "entertainment" TV is increasingly rubbish. If people will laugh just because you use a four letter word or watch a programme purely for voyeurism, then you have to go further and further each time to get the same shock or titillation. It also drives out good TV. It is not that we are becoming more open minded, it is just that many of us have given up thinking about what we watch, what we do and what kind of world we live in. It may be that people are constantly pushing back the boundaries but they are doing that because the power to shock is constantly being lost and therefore they have to. What needs to be lost though is the lie that this is liberal when clearly it is not. Much of the shock and humour is based on the fact that this would offend responsible people, the naughty schoolboy who plays on being shocking, that Mary Whitehouse would not like it. This is not liberal, it is just fascism by another name.

There is also another lie, those who purvey this do so claiming they are alternative and radical, when in reality this is the mainstream or at least a part of it. More people probably watch Graham Norton than go to church on Sunday. The truth is that Graham Norton is the Establishment. The problem is that though we live in a supposedly Liberal society, it is a society that at best just laughs rather than listening to those who think differently.
Ed Manning, UK

If you don't like what's on TV, you don't have to watch. Who says you must own a TV?
Jeff, USA

I am all in favour of realism in TV dramas, but some programmes go a bit too far. Some of Guy Ritchie's films are rendered unenjoyable because of the overused bad language. Being a youth leader of 8 to 18 year olds, in my opinion, they use the worse language of the lot. I'm sure this comes from TV in recent years. I think a balance between necessary and unnecessary material is needed.
Richard H UK, UK

What struck me reading this item was the prurient attitude of some people towards issues of sex and sexuality. In my view, this is more damaging than a few swear words or a smutty innuendo (and as someone pointed out, a lot of programmes from the "good old days" such as Dick Emery and Are You Being Served were much better at that than anything Graham Norton can come up with!). If nakedness is seen as dirty and shocking, if sex is seen as something to be talked about in hushed whispers and after 10pm then we are embedding all sorts of repressive views in our society that are just as damaging as the perceived stream of smut on our television screens.
Antonia, England

Wake up! people swear, so what? Don't like it? Don't watch it. If it's on in adult viewing time then what's the problem? Aren't there more important things like talking to your kids about drugs and sex than what someone says on TV. Wake up Britain this is 2001
M Whittle, England

If I had a real choice, I rather not watch TV, especially the news. I always have and now believe more so that TV/media is used in the most cruellest way: to brainwash in the direction of the media moguls.

If TV program makers really are using smut and bad language to "attract viewers" then we must assume that this is what viewers want!

Simon Moore, UK
If TV program makers really are using smut and bad language to "attract viewers" then we must assume that this is what viewers want! Not all TV is like this; if you don't like programs with smut and bad language in, don't watch them. If you do like it, then watch them. It's actually very simple! Lets not go down the road of telling people what they "ought to like" - watch whatever you want but don't try and impose your tastes on others.
Simon Moore, UK

Uncreative "entertainers" use shock value to create controversy and gain attention. Many people think if its shocking and controversial it is cool, so drivel sells. As a result it is largely drivel and childish entertainers who fill our airwaves.
Jeff Garner, USA

Since when has swearing hurt anyone? What I'd like to know is why the BBC 6 O' clock news can show dead bodies lying in gutters in Afghanistan but people then complain about swearing on a TV program broadcast after 10 pm? If TV is anything like real life then there'd be swearing in every program.
Jim, UK

Dumbing-down, no morals, values or decency. I blame the government.
Chris, UK

The contents of daytime TV and anything with Jim Davidson are far worse and more dumbed down than anything mentioned here

Jamie T, Germany (British)
Why can't the ultra PC brigade go to bed at 9pm, put their children to bed early at a responsible time and leave the other 99.993% of us to watch what we want to watch, when we want to watch it and find it as funny, boring or banal as we see fit? The contents of daytime TV and anything with Jim Davidson are far worse and more dumbed down than anything mentioned here.
Jamie T, Germany (British)

There are excellent programmes out there, its just that today they are easily overwhelmed by the huge volumes of dross on our ever growing number of channels. Society's attitudes may be more liberal, but the real change is that TV controllers no longer feel they are constrained by certain moral standards unless they are certain it will diminish the audience. I was less disappointed by the needless swearing in Robbie Williams show than by his rather middle of the road interpretations of some classic songs and his smoking throughout the act. It might have been cool in the fifties, but it's stupid in the nineties when an entertainer of his calibre should know better!
Malcolm Parker, England

The charter of the BBC is to 'Educate, inform and entertain'. If BBC TV can still do this then swearing is OK in moderation.
Matt Smith, UK

So John Beyer and his minority Mediawatch prudes find some television after 9pm too crude? Find the OFF button and listen to the radio then, so us adults can enjoy the likes of Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross et al in peace!
Pete Wilson, UK

Each week he makes 3.5 million viewers laugh and come back for more

Steve, London, UK
As Graham Norton has just received an International Emmy for his show (on top of 3 BAFTA Awards, 2 Comedy Awards, and an RTS Award) he must be hitting the right buttons. Each week he makes 3.5 million viewers laugh and come back for more. If people think his show (and other shows) are too smutty or rude why don't they just watch something else instead - after all we now have dozens of channels to choose from!
Steve, London, UK

Media and society are becoming evermore interrelated; each has an ever-stronger influence on the other. I'm in my early 20s, liberally minded and enjoy watching stuff like So Graham Norton and other (supposedly crude) C4 comedy. I of course recognise that to older generations this probably wouldn't apply. But undoubtedly (and, to me, thankfully) British society is becoming more open-minded, liberal, expressive and less inhibited. I happen to feel strongly that those people who are open and liberal about sex and sexuality are far better placed to celebrate their own personal freedom. However, whilst the treatment of sex on TV should reflect changing societal attitudes, violence should not be mindless but should have a 'purpose' behind its portrayal.
John, England

Take Friday nights at 10.30: Graham Norton on C4 and Newsnight on BBC2. These two programmes could not be more different! The point is, society is diverse and TV must respond to this. Nowadays, digital TV offers you over 150 channels; if you can't find something you like either get out or get a life!!
Dave, England

Even though I consider myself modern and the like, the development disturbs me

Peter, Finland
Many conservative shows are becoming cruder every day. It may reflect the changes in this society, but even though I consider myself modern and the like, the development disturbs me.
Peter, Finland

TV producers seem to be obsessed with 'pushing back the boundaries'. First Channel 4 tried to be a cruder version than ITV, then Channel 5 tried to out do Channel 4. This may be fine for some people but, judging by many of the comments made, most people would prefer good TV to crude TV.
James Taylor, UK

Out of an audience of about 7 million only 500 people were so outraged they complained. This is 0.007% of the audience. Why a tiny, tiny fraction of an audience should dictate what the rest of us can watch is a mystery to me. The programme was shown after the 9pm watershed. Parents should realise that ANY programme after this time is likely to contain adult material regardless of the subject matter.
Matt Francis, England

I love swearing and I'm 82!
John Meddick, England

TV makes ME want to swear

Simon Feegrade, England
To pinpoint swearing as an increasing "problem" with TV is to highlight one drop in a raging torrent. The plain fact is, despite all the bluster from the likes of Peter Bazalgette, TV is simply becoming increasingly rubbish. It is becoming creatively bankrupt, more and more shallow, insipid, irritating and monotonous. I don't know about TV being full of swearing - TV makes ME want to swear. Viciously.
Simon Feegrade, England

The comedy style of the likes of Graham Norton and Frank Skinner which some seem to consider "crude" simply makes me laugh a great deal. They also make a great deal of my friends laugh. I would even go as far as saying they make a great deal of people in my generation (early 20's) laugh as well. I admit that there are many people out there who prefer a cleaner and more traditional form of entertainment - that is their choice and it is a choice that is well catered for (somebody has already mentioned UK Gold) but shouldn't me and my friends be catered for too? I thought television was about meeting the needs and tastes of every social group and age group in society or is that just me being too old fashioned?
James Pittman, England

I am surprised that no-one seems to have remarked on Robbie Williams' cavorting with Nicole Kidman on Top of the Pops. This struck me as exceedingly raunchy, though in terms of its likely harm on impressionable minds, infinitely preferable to the likes of "So Solid Crew", "Limp Bizkit" and all the other tattooed pre-literates who infest the so-called charts.
Edward, UK

Children swear more than adults, so I'm sure it was nothing they hadn't heard before

I didn't watch the Robbie Williams concert but I'm sure it didn't feature anything more crude or sexually explicit than the language I heard when I went to school. I think you'll find that children, on the whole, swear more than adults, so I'm sure it was nothing they hadn't heard before.

Good idea Peter Hardaway, take a look at what UK Gold has on offer: "Are you being served" - more innuendoes on that program than on Graham Norton. "The A-Team" - more violence than the CNN coverage of the war. "Dad's Army" - slightly anti-German. Times change, cultures change, people change, TV has to change.
Kenny, UK

It is very sad how broadcast TV has changed for the worse. You only have to look at the repeats of recent series on UK Gold to remind yourselves how good TV can be. Shows like Dads Army, Are You Being Served Lovejoy and many others look like something from a different era compared to most of today's rubbish. Perhaps it's down to the fact that so many 'luvvie' producers really do feel they reflect the wider world rather than their own very narrow lifestyles.
Peter Hardaway, UK

I don't think TV is becoming too crude but I do think that it is becoming too dumb. I'd rather have witty programs that didn't have to censor themselves than mind numbing family entertainment.
Tom, UK

I'll take crude over dumb any day.
Robert del Valle, USA

There is a certain amount of the population that possesses a sense of humour that never matures. Subtle humour eludes them but the mere mention of under garments, alcohol, or the use of a swear word sends them into fits of giggles. A comedian who was not born with a natural amount of cleverness and who knows their audience has a low IQ can only choose vulgarity and blandness.
Lori Smith, USA

Listen Fraser Mann, in response to your condescending dismissal of everyone who doesn't agree with you as being 'prudes'. You're absolutely right that we don't want to go back to the Mary Whitehouse days, they were too puritanical. But now things have swung too far to the opposite extreme. A bit of crudity here and there is fine, but the point of this debate is that it is now to be found almost everywhere on TV and is fast approaching saturation point. Because you don't want to be constantly bombarded with vulgarity every time you switch your TV on does not make you a prude and nor does it mean you have Victorian attitudes to sex.
M. Maguire, UK

Swearing has been in use in entertainment since the days of Chaucer

Fraser Mann, England
Look, swearing and smuttiness are funny, end of story. Those prudes who persist with Victorian attitudes to sexuality and sexual humour need to take a good look at the world around them. Swearing has been in use in entertainment since the days of Chaucer. Would you refer to this great man as one who lacks wit? Please do let us go back to the days of Mary Whitehouse when the narrow, repressive views of a reactionary minority set a questionable moral platitude for the rest of us.
Fraser Mann, England

It's true that standards have slipped in many of the established TV timeslots, but I actually think that it's more the issue of general 'dumbing down' that is the problem. I could cite Jim Davidson's language and behaviour on 'The Generation Game', but there's also the pointless (some would claim harmless) drivel peddled by Cilla Black on ITV. If these programmes are as popular as it appears, then I am truly concerned...
Robert Crosby, Nottingham, UK

If broadcasters justify smut and crudity by saying they are 'reflecting society's increasingly liberal attitude', it doesn't surprise me in the least. The entire industry seems to be a monumental insult to the intelligence of the British public. The likes of Frank Skinner and Graham Norton do not make me angry, merely bored and rather sad that such mediocrities are considered talented.
Davy, Leeds, UK

TV became too crude long ago

Alastair Stevens, Cambridge UK
TV became too crude long ago, and the gradual but determined slide in standards will no doubt continue. If you don't believe it, just compare what is acceptable now to what was acceptable 20 years ago. The moral decline in the media goes hand in hand with (and some might say exacerbates) the general moral decline in our tattered "society".
Alastair Stevens, Cambridge, UK

In this modern day and age there is such thing as an OFF button. Don't like what you see? Press it and stop moaning.
Paul, UK

I think the old version of the Oxford English Dictionary had it just right. Next to certain words it would put "vulg" which it explained as "implying either want of education or want of manners". That sums up exactly the present generation of so-called comedians who use bad language as a substitute for saying something genuinely funny.
Wendy, Wolverhampton, England

I cannot honestly see the problem with them

Martin, UK
As long as these sorts of programmes are shown after the 9pm watershed, I cannot honestly see the problem with them. There are other channels to watch if you just press the button. I cannot be bothered with these people who complain all the time about adult humour on television.
Martin, UK

Swearing provides an excellent addendum to the common English language when used appropriately and in relative moderation, the danger being that when used excessively it loses its impact and relevance. Many swear words are extremely versatile and adaptive, the same words being ideally suited for providing emphasis, displaying frustration or simply adding comic value to a statement that is being made.
James Crosby, Hook, England

TV should clean up its act and reject crude language and behaviour. All too often our ears and eyes are polluted by uncalled for swearing and street attitudes, which, let's face it, is largely influenced by American street speech and mannerisms.
Fraser, Israel

It's not cool and it's not clever, grow up Robbie!

Mark Hill, England
I too was shocked and surprised at the language used at the recent Robbie Williams concert shown on BBC1. There must have been thousands of parents with young teenage children watching, what an insult. Robbie Williams is talented, he does not need it. I call it "show off swearing". Madonna tried it at her concerts, now Robbie thinks he has to try it to be cool. It's not cool and it's not clever, grow up Robbie!
Mark Hill, England

Yes, TV is becoming needlessly crude. I don't mean Graham Norton's saucy but amusing late-night stuff, but the way that swearing is seen as somehow inherently funny during primetime television. Frankly most people grow out of laughing at rude words by the time they leave primary school.
Guy Chapman, UK

If British TV is becoming too crude in an effort to boost ratings, what does that say about the mentality of the viewing public? Crude TV will only be watched by crude people, and if smutty TV boosts ratings, doesn't that indicate that the viewers are crude themselves?
PMcG, Ireland

Using naughty words to enhance a story or joke is one thing. Using them as a substitute for talent as Messrs Skinner, Ross and Norton do I'm afraid, is another. Don't censor them. Let their obvious lack of wit shine for all to see.
Steve, England

See also:

19 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
Complaints over Robbie's TV show
24 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Radio report slams swearing
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