“BBC turns the air blue at 8.10am”: Sunday Express lead story, 31 July 2011

This is a shortened Express.co.uk version of an anti-BBC lead story in the print edition of the ‘The Sunday Express’, 31 July 2011. There is also comment on page 38. (story by Ted Jeory)

THE BBC was urged last night to introduce a TV-style ­watershed for radio after its flagship news bulletin broadcast a series of abusive swear words during family breakfast time.

Media watchdogs said it was time that the corporation closed the loophole and imposed the same “no swearing” rules on radio which govern television programmes broadcast before 9pm.

Millions of listeners, including children, were left stunned at 8.10am on Friday when Radio 4’s Today programme repeatedly used the words “bullsh**” and “bastards” during a recorded item. The words were spoken to illustrate a report about the abuse aimed at academics researching chronic fatigue syndrome or ME.

The item, introduced with no warning by regular presenter Sarah Montague, said researchers who suggested ME might be a mental illness had been subjected to a hate campaign.

Actors used to read the e-mails from sufferers put strong emphasis on the offensive words. One read: “Those of you responsible for preventing us sick ME sufferers getting the help we need, wasting £5million on flawed bullsh**, you will all pay.”

Another said: “How are you evil bastards going to explain away another piece of evidence?” Sister station Five Live aired the same report but warned listeners beforehand.

As the BBC launched an investigation following complaints, Radio 4 insisted the words were essential and Today listeners could cope without a warning.

Yet the written version on BBC online did not mention the swearwords and neither, a corporation spokesman thought, did TV bulletins later in the day.

Licence payers’ watchdog Mediawatch UK said that was because television is banned from using swearwords before 9pm, while radio is freer to broadcast abuse at any time.

Its director Vivienne Pattison said that made no sense and the loophole should be closed. She said she frequently had to “leap across the room” to switch off her radio to prevent her children hearing words of adult content aired during the day.

Ten days ago, Radio 4’s afternoon play Positive also used foul language, while last March Radio 3 broadcast an adaptation of Wuthering Heights at 8pm which added the f-word.

Ms Pattison said: “The BBC is somewhat of a repeat offender on this issue. There isn’t a watershed on radio and it’s time we had one. Ofcom’s research finds too much swearing is being broadcast. People don’t like it. ”

The BBC’s editorial guidelines were strengthened last year in the wake of the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand scandal on Radio 2 in 2008. However, the governing BBC Trust declined to introduce a TV-style watershed.

The BBC handbook states: “Radio is a different medium with different audiences, so we cannot operate a similar watershed policy.”

It does concede: “We must take extra care when different generations may be listening together. This typically applies during the morning and afternoon school runs or during school holidays.”

LBC radio presenter and Sunday Express columnist Nick Ferrari said the BBC and Radio 4 in particular lived in their own “elite metropolitan bubble”.

He said BBC radio should have a watershed and added: “You would never have this grotesque use of words on commercial radio. There is no justifiable reason for Radio 4’s decision.”

Last night, two Tory MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport select committee backed the call for a radio watershed.

Therese Coffey was not even aware there was no watershed. She said: “It strikes me as being inconsistent.

“There’s no expectation of hearing that kind of language at that time and I’m sure people would have been shocked.”

Her colleague Philip Davies added: “The lack of a watershed is an anomaly that needs to be addressed.”

A spokesman for the Today programme said: “E-mails including abusive language were included in the report to demonstrate the level of intimidation involved in the campaign. We felt this was editorially justified.”

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Express Comment

Immature BBC bosses must clean up once great ‘Today’

DOES the BBC think it operates on different standards of decency from the rest of the country?

That is the only conclusion to be drawn from the utterly disgraceful language on the Today programme aired at 8.10am, with no warning as to what listeners were about to hear and at a time when children were almost certainly able to overhear.

What was our so-called public service broadcaster thinking?

This childish desire to shock has more in common with an adolescent attempting to be rebellious than serious broadcasting and it surfaces time and time again.

The disgusting “Sachs-gate” episode was an example of this juvenile exhibitionism at its worst but to have the much-vaunted Today sink to these levels is beyond the pale.

If BBC employees are too self-obsessed and immature to understand that standards of decency are required when making a radio programme – any programme – then a watershed must be introduced.

Swearing is not allowed on television until after 9pm, though many think it is a great pity that swearing is allowed at all, and the same rules should be introduced on the radio.

It is simply unacceptable to use this kind of language at such an hour.

It is also very sad that the once mighty Today, which in its heyday was the most important news programme across the whole of the BBC, has been reduced to behaving like a child attempting to shock.

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