Sophie Vorrath writes


Does anyone give a f*** about the use of the f-word in mainstream media any more? Last weekend, Good Weekend
magazine, in a profile of Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, featured the
word spelled out it all its glory, in one form or another, half a dozen
times.

A few days earlier, The Chaser’s War on Everything on ABC TV ran a clip of Chris Taylor appearing to drop the f-bomb twice on Seven’s hallowed Sunrise
program. The clip was a set-up, but the idea of Taylor telling his wife
to get the f*** out of his life on morning TV certainly grabbed the
viewer’s attention.

So is this the status of taste in Australian
mainstream media today? Is anyone offended by the use of the f-word any
more – or is it more offensive to audiences to see it edited out?

We
asked the editors of some of Australia’s major newspapers and magazines
about their policy on publishing f*** unedited (we note at this point
that Crikey’s policy would be to spell it, and other explicit
language, out were it not for internet firewalls blocking the daily
email). Here are their responses…

Peter Blunden, Herald Sun: The Herald Sun
is a family newspaper, read by 1.5 million people every day. There is
no place to publish the “F word” in our paper. It has never appeared
and in my time here never will (I hope).

Jack Waterford, Canberra Times: We
do not like to rub our readers’ faces in the more crude four-letter
words, and their variants, and, if they are appropriate at all, they
will be used in news pages in the f… way. I do not believe that there
is usually any good reason for a journalist or writer to use the
word… of his or her own initiative… and deeply discourage its use
(in writing at least) merely to shock, appear clever or
“sophisticated”. But there are occasions when quoting it is
appropriate… (such as when) the unlikelihood, especial
inappropriateness of, or the identity of the sayer (gives) it some news
value. …The f-word would appear (in The Canberra Times) once a week on average, I guess.

Judith Whelan, Good Weekend: The Good Weekend
changed its policy on spelling out the f-word last year after getting
quite a lot of complaints about the editing out of it. Since then, we
decided that we would not edit the f-word out any more – but that we
would only spell it out in full in extreme situations (such as) in
quotes. It’s got to be extremely vital to the sense of the piece. We
haven’t had any complaints about the Heffernan piece.

Alan Oakley, The Sydney Morning Herald: We don’t spell out the f-word anywhere in the paper.

Garry Linnell, The Bulletin: My
policy (while not strict and absolute) is that if you’re going to use
it, print it in full. That said, we try and police it so it’s not
over-used and appears gratuitous. I think the f-word has lost a great
deal of its ability to shock and offend; most of the public find some
of the atrocities going on around the world far more offensive. We’ve
probably had only one or two complaints in the past three and a half
years. And a couple of years ago when we printed the c-word in full,
there was barely a ripple, either.

Andrew Jaspan, The Age: On
the f-word … where possible I prefer that we avoid using it. We all
swear but largely in private, and I think, we all try to avoid doing so
in front of kids. But we also need to be grown up and accept that the
word is widely used. We all take note of language, and the words people
use. Bad language can be very telling. In most cases though we will
star the word out (f*** off) as our readers can work it out and that
way we avoid offending a small (and often vocal) minority who complain
when we spell the word out, which in turn just f***s us off.

Michael Ward, Head of Policy and Administration ABC TV: The
f-word cannot be broadcast in any form before M or MA times – that is
either 8.30pm or 9.30pm. Whether the program makes M or MA depends
on the number of times and the context the f-word is used (eg, if in a
threatening manner). Our general sense is that (use of the f-word) is
not more extensive in drama and documentary programs than previously,
and rarely appears in factual programming. The introduction of live,
reality and some edgier comedy shows (obviously in later evening times
slots) over the past few years may have led to a slight increase in its
appearance on television. ABC complaints records note that there were
36 complaints of bad language across ABC TV and radio for the first
three months of 2006, with 1 complaint upheld ( a basketball broadcast
in G time).

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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