Research reveals what audiences expect when TV is offensive

Researchers from Leicester and Birmingham City University have revealed some of the key concerns audiences have with television they find ‘offensive’.

Dr Ranjana Das from the School of Media, Communication and Sociology and Dr Anne Graefer from the Birmingham School of Media travelled to towns and villages across Britain and Germany and watched daytime TV with audiences, viewing programmes audiences themselves reported to be offensive or problematic and then conducting interviews with them.

They found that rather than being concerned with swear words, bad language or flashy lighting, audiences’ greater concerns were with wider issues – such as those around the construction of characters, the relative power and positions of the actors/creators behind characters and the absence and erasure of faces and issues.

Dr Das said: “We were keen, in our fieldwork, to probe audiences’ expectations of the regulatory process in the context of media content they themselves identified as problematic or outright offensive.

“In analysing responses which argued for a clearer role of institutions to better serve the needs of audiences, when it came to the production and regulation of content they found problematic, we found a closer alignment with the democratic ideals behind the media’s and media institutions’ responsibilities.

“Audience responses speak more about ideals and expectations placed on institutions acting for, speaking for and on behalf of audiences and publics.”

In investigating people’s expectations of actors and institutions in their responses to television content that startles, upsets or just offends them, the researchers suggest it is crucial to treat a conversation on free speech and censorship with caution.

Dr Das added: “It is never just about being for one or the other – as audiences clearly despise totalitarian censorship regimes for right reasons. But equally, they place expectations on producers and regulators to create a media sphere which is engaging, responsible and which contributes to good outcomes for citizens.”

The research will be explored in the researchers’ forthcoming book Provocative Screens, due for publication in 2017.

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