Taste, Standards and the BBCPublic attitudes to morality, values and behaviour in UKbroadcastingJune 2009 BBC 20091
ContentsPreface .3Introduction .5Executive Summary .6Key findings from the new BBC research .6Conclusions .7Recommendations .8Background.11Section 1. The broader media landscape .13Section 2. Young people: 11-15 year-olds .24Section 3. Strong language.29Section 4. Sexual content .38Section 5. The role of the BBC .45Conclusions and Recommendations.51Conclusions .51Recommendations .52Appendices .55Appendix A.56Steering Group Members.56Appendix B.57Terms of Reference .57Appendix C .59BBC Editorial Guidelines on Harm and Offence and Ofcom Code.59Appendix D .72Audience Research Technical Specifications .72 BBC 20092
PrefaceThe BBC has a unique relationship with its audience - and audiences have highexpectations of the BBC.Occasionally we fall short of those expectations. Last year we apologised forremarks made in The Russell Brand Show on Radio 2, which were offensive. Onthat occasion our audiences were quick to let us know that we had fallen belowthe standards they expect.The BBC took action to try to prevent a re-occurrence of anything similar. Butthis instance raised bigger and broader questions about public attitudes tobroadcasting standards today; questions which the BBC had not investigatedsystematically for some time.The BBC Trust asked the Executive to consider how the BBC should deal withquestions of generally accepted standards in its output and report back to theTrust. In response, the Director-General required senior programme executivesacross television, radio and editorial policy to explore the BBC’s approach toquestions of taste and standards within a fast-moving and diverse medialandscape.The group’s thinking was led by Alan Yentob, Creative Director and Roly Keating,Director of Archive Content.The BBC commissioned the most extensive piece of research it has everundertaken in this area to find out what our audiences think about the standardswe achieve and what we should aspire to. We asked Ipsos MORI to carry out arepresentative poll of public opinion and the research company Blinc to delvemore deeply into audience attitudes through a series of focus groups and otherdiscussions with the public. We also interviewed leading practitioners and askedthem about their views and experiences.The research, which is detailed in the pages that follow, offers a fascinatinginsight into the complexity of audience opinions about what we do, opinionswhich are as varied and diverse as the audiences we serve and which are neversimply censorious.The findings gives us a sophisticated insight into the question which confrontsany creative organisation; how do we reconcile the impulse shared by allprogramme and content makers to explore creativity with the responsibility ouraudiences expect us to exercise as a public broadcaster answerable ultimately tothem?The answers are complex, and apply differently to different genres, to differentperformers and to different programmes. Our audiences applaud originality andtheir attitudes to standards are highly dependent on the quality of ourprogramming. BBC 20093
There are insights here for all of us. In the next few months we shall be sharingthis new knowledge with all programme and content makers in both in-house andindependent production. The thoughtful conclusions of this report and itsrecommendations will help to clarify and shape decision-making by the BBC; theywill support creative boldness and enable us to present ideas which challengeand inspire our audiences.Jana BennettDirector, Vision BBC 2009David JordanDirector, Editorial Policy and Standards4
IntroductionFor everyone involved, this has been a demanding and rewarding project. Fewareas of broadcasting policy provoke more emotive responses and conflictingpositions: in media commentary, and within the broadcasting community itself,strong divisions can arise and views will occasionally become entrenched, acrossthe whole spectrum of opinion.What we have sought to do here is put audiences at the heart of the debate,determining by their own thoughtful responses where broadcasters in general,and the BBC in particular, should stand on these questions.In the research findings set out in the report there is significant diversity of viewsand perspective. Familiar differences between generations reappear, insometimes unexpected forms. New themes and concerns emerge, some drivenby the radical changes in media and technology of the last decade.Through it all, a clear sense emerges of what audiences expect of the BBC.They very explicitly want the BBC to be different from other broadcasters, to be abenchmark of quality and trust in all its output; but not so different that it driftsapart from the currency of public attitudes and fails to reflect audiences honestlyback to themselves. They value creative innovation and the strong talents andpersonalities who capture the nation’s sometimes outrageous sense of humour;but value equally the tough judgement and control that keeps fundamentalstandards in place even when material is strong or challenging. They want andexpect us to take a thoughtful and informed approach, with the courage to beaccountable for the judgements we make on their behalf.Specific insights emerge, captured in the recommendations that indicate wherenew processes can be introduced to ensure that the BBC takes even more carein decision-making where fine judgements of taste have to be made. One themethat comes through loud and clear is the vital importance of context andsignposting: as the world of broadcasting becomes ever more time-shifted andon-demand, the need for clarity in content warnings and guidance becomesgreater than ever.The real value of this research, we believe, is in its long-term benefit to the BBC’srelationship with its audiences. In their range and depth, the findings here giveeditorial professionals across the BBC – and the broadcasting industry as awhole – a closer and more detailed understanding of audience attitudes to theseissues than they have ever had before. It is an approach which we believeshould be repeated on a regular basis in years to come, in order to maintain theinformed understanding that the BBC needs to allow creative innovation toflourish with confidence. BBC 20095
Executive SummaryKey findings from the new BBC research1. Where audiences are concerned about the area of taste and morality ontelevision as a whole, this is often connected with broader concerns aboutfalling standards in terms of quality and the over-reliance on realityformats.2. Standards of morality, values and behaviour in the media in particular arenot a top-of-mind issue for the majority of the public.3. The BBC overall performs well in the audience's perceptions of standardsof morality, values and behaviour, compared to other channels andbroadcasters. The audience also has higher expectations of the BBC.4. In general terms, the public do not want increased censorship orregulation. The majority value the creativity of the BBC and accept that itmay sometimes lead to offending some people.5. When prompted, a significant proportion of the audience have variousconcerns about standards of morality, values and behaviour in the mediaas a whole, including newspapers, magazines, broadcasting and onlinecontent.6. Strong language is an area of concern for some audiences; theyrecognise when language is used for clear purpose or effect within aprogramme - including comedy and entertainment - but dislike'unnecessary' or excessive use.7. In certain genres, the offensive potential of strong language can becompounded when it is combined with apparently aggressive or bullyingbehaviour. This reflects broader public concerns about aggression andbullying within society as a whole.8. There is little public consensus or agreement about what constitutesoffence: it means very different things to different sections of the audience.9. The context in which potentially offensive content is placed is ofparamount importance to audiences, as are judgements of quality. Bothcan make the difference between whether something is acceptable toaudiences or not.10. Tone and intent can also make strong material acceptable: the 'twinkle inthe eye' of a performer and their skill in delivery can make the decisivedifference, even with potentially offensive material. BBC 20096
11. Age and socio-economic group go some way to describing who in theaudience is more likely to have concerns, but they do not tell the full story.12. Younger audiences (11-15 year-olds) are uniquely self-selecting in theirchoice of media content, through the web and magazines as well asbroadcast material. Though strongly drawn to more sexual content, someexpress unease about the sexualised nature of the media world in whichthey live and the pressure to 'grow up fast.'13. Sexual content on television and radio was a matter of relatively lowconcern for audiences. There was an expectation that the televisionwatershed should be respected, and content on radio appropriatelyscheduled. There is no appetite for a watershed in radio.14. Some respondents commented that the transfer of some successful seriesfrom BBC Two may bring a somewhat ‘edgier’ tone to BBC One.15. Respondents expressed few concerns about standards on BBC Radio.However, of all the BBC’s services, Radio 1 has the most dividedresponse in terms of morality, values and behaviour.16. Audiences are conscious of the challenges presented by the growth ofonline and on-demand content, but there is little awareness of the BBC's'G for Guidance' systems, or understanding that iPlayer has a parentpassword protection scheme which prevents children accessing adultcontent.Our response to these findings is divided into conclusions – whichunderline or reinforce current practice in the light of the new research– and recommendations, which highlight specific areas for change.Conclusions1. Audiences accept potentially offensive content but believe it should bethere for a purpose. They have a sophisticated sense of differentprogramme genres, from serious documentary to reality andentertainment. Producers should ensure that any potentially offensivematerial has a clear editorial purpose and ask themselves is it necessary?Does it enhance the quality of the experience for audiences?2. Viewers understand and value the television watershed. The BBC mustrespect and maintain its significance as a crucial contribution to audienceconfidence in television standards. There is no audience demand for aradio watershed. BBC 20097
3. Of all BBC services, BBC One is the most sensitive, because of its abilityto unite generations and families in shared viewing. The bar for thestrongest language between 9pm and 10pm must therefore remainsignificantly higher than on other BBC television channels.4. On all channels, producers, presenters, commissioners and controllershave a shared responsibility to ensure that the force and value of thestrongest words is not weakened by over-use. The mandatory referral ofthe most offensive language to Channel Controllers reflects this and mustbe maintained.5. Mischievous banter, practical jokes and formats, which include elementsof confrontation and criticism, can all be legitimate – indeed the public tellus that they can add greatly to their enjoyment; but programme makers,on-air artists and presenters must ensure that they never tip over intomalice, humiliation or harm.6. Audiences admire performers who take risks but have the expertise toknow when to draw a line. To support such talent, producers andcontrollers must always be candid and open with them about judgementsof tone and content, and be prepared where appropriate to take andenforce tough decisions.7. Risk-taking is as vital a part of the BBC's mission in comedy, drama andentertainment as it is in other genres. As with all programme making, thegreater the risk, the greater the thought, care and pre-planning needed tobring something groundbreaking to air.Recommendations1. New series on television and radioFor new series where questions of taste and standards are likely to arise,there must be a discussion with the commissioning executive early in theproduction cycle to agree appropriate parameters of tone and content, toensure that all involved – including presenters and performers – havegiven thought to questions of channel, context and slot. Even when areturning series has established expectations of strong language andcontent, there should be a similar discussion before the start of each run.2. Greater care over cross-channel transfersWhen a TV series moves to a more mainstream channel - especially toBBC One - producers and controllers should be sensitive to its newcontext, and give careful consideration to adaptations of tone or format ifnecessary. BBC 20098
3. Clearer policy on bleeping of strong languageA clearer policy should be set for the use of bleeping in TV and radioprogrammes. In general, where strong language is integral to themeaning or content of a programme – and other questions of slot, contextchannel etc have been resolved – it should not be disguised. But when inother circumstances a sequence that is editorially necessary happens tocontain the strongest language, it may be right to bleep or disguise thewords, even after the watershed.4. New guidance on malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliationBBC programmes must never condone malicious intrusion, intimidationand humiliation. While they are all aspects of human behaviour whichmay need to be depicted, described or discussed across the BBC’s factualand non-factual output, they must never be celebrated for the purposes ofentertainment. New guidance is needed to ensure that everyone involvedin programme making for the BBC understands that malicious intrusion,intimidation and humiliation are unacceptable.5. Clearer audience information and warningsThe BBC should always recognise that some sections of its audiences aremore readily offended than others. We owe the public the information theyneed to make informed choices about viewing and listening and to avoidmaterial they may regard as unsuitable for themselves or their families.Each channel must make even greater efforts to ensure that appropriatecontent information (eg. billings and presentation announcements) isprovided which enables informed judgements to be made by allaudiences, both pre- and post-watershed, about programme content.6. Music radioMusic radio thrives on strong personalities, and young audiences valueBBC Radio 1 highly; but editorial teams must be reminded that particularcare needs to be taken at times of day, such as school runs, whendifferent generations may be listening together.7. Major awareness campaign about online guidanceThe BBC has pioneered content guidance and child protectionmechanisms provided by the iPlayer. Audiences are concerned about theinternet as a space of unregulated content and are insufficiently aware ofthe protection available for BBC content. A major campaign of publicinformation is needed as soon as possible to raise awareness of thecontent guidance and offer reassurance to audiences. The BBC shouldalso work to ensure that the next generation of Freeview and FreeSatPVRs have PIN protection functionality.8. More regular audience researchIn-depth audience research, along the lines of the findings in this paper,should be conducted more often to ensure that the BBC maintains a full BBC 20099
and detailed understanding of audience attitudes to taste and standards.To keep up with changes in audience taste, research should becommissioned every two to three years. Careful attention should be givento key tracking questions that will enable the BBC to identify changes inaudience and societal attitudes.9. Revision of Editorial Guidelines and GuidanceThe BBC’s Editorial Policy department should use the research, generalprinciples and recommendations in this report to inform the current generalrevision of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines and, in particular, to clarifyaudience expectations of tone and context. In addition, new Guidance willbe required to keep programme and content makers up-to-date withaudience expectations of BBC content.10. Increased commitment to trainingThe research findings offer new opportunities to illuminate theunderstanding of taste and standards for programme makers across theBBC. The findings should be briefed to leadership groups in all contentdivisions by the Director and Chief Adviser, Editorial Policy. The Collegesof Production and Journalism should develop new training material thatexplores audience attitudes specific to each of the key genres, which willbe rolled out to programme makers both in-house and independent. Theaudience research and the conclusions of this report should also be madeavailable through normal Editorial Policy channels to all programmemakers. The findings of this study and the materials used in it shouldinform online courses, which will be used to maintain editorial policystandards. BBC 200910
BackgroundThis report aims to inform BBC editorial decision-making and training, andcontribute to BBC's guidance for its editorial staff. It considers a number of keyareas concerning taste and standards in broadcasting, as they affect the BBC'srole within a fast-moving and increasingly diverse media landscape. The reportand accompanying research are intended to contribute to the debate on society'sattitudes to these questions and how those perspectives should be reflected inBBC content.It has been produced under the supervision of a pan-BBC steering group[Appendix A] convened by the BBC Executive in November 2008, in theaftermath of the public debate that followed the 'Ross/Brand' incident on BBCRadio 2. The sponsors of the project are David Jordan, Director of EditorialPolicy, and Jana Bennett, Director of Vision. The group has been led by Alan
broadcasting standards today; questions which the BBC had not investigated systematically for some time. The BBC Trust asked the Executive to consider how the BBC should deal with questions of generally accepted standards in its output and report back to the Trust. In response, the Director-General required senior programme executives across television, radio and editorial policy to explore .
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common set of values and behaviours. More than just words on a page, our values set out what we stand for and inform everything we do. They define what you can expect from the BBC, and what the BBC expects from you - helping us to build a BBC that is creative, inclusive and full of opportunity. Tim Davie. BBC Director-General
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