Depictions of rape or cruelty offend 80%

Irish audiences value broadcasting watersheds and content warnings, research finds

Four-fifths of viewers and listeners have been offended by scenes or descriptions of rape, sexual assault or cruelty in Irish broadcasting, while half have been offended by explicit or graphic images, a new survey shows.

The poll, conducted by Ipsos MRBI for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, found what it called a "spectrum of offensiveness", with a lower proportion, about a third, saying they had been offended by the content of comedy or reality television programming. Some 60 per cent of the 1,000 people surveyed agreed that there were "some things that should never be broadcast", with only 17 per cent disagreeing.

However, the research also uncovered what the authority's chairman Bob Collins called a "mature" attitude among Irish broadcasting audiences.

Seven out of 10 people accepted “the reality that they may be offended by something that is not regarded by others as being ‘offensive’.” They also agreed with the statement “broadcasters should cater for all tastes even if some of these programmes offend me”.


Broadcasting watersheds and content “pre-warnings” given at the start of programmes are regarded as good ideas by the majority and are “the preferred restrictions”, the research found.

Some 26 per cent of people are regularly or occasionally offended by how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are portrayed on television.

A quarter of people are regularly or occasionally offended by the portrayal of women, with almost as many offended by the portrayal of people with disabilities, immigrants and Travellers.

Mr Collins said he didn’t believe broadcasters were “thoughtlessly transmitting content”, but there needed to be a “continuing conversation” about standards in Irish television and radio.

Broadcasters had been reluctant in the past to engage with the question of whether violence on television causes harm, he noted.

The research, conducted as the BAI prepares to redraft its code of programme standards, revealed a sharp divide in attitudes to offence within comedy. Some 47 per cent agreed with the statement that “comedy is supposed to push the boundaries and may, as a consequence, sometimes offend people”. The alternative statement “if comedy is offensive, then it has gone too far” was backed by the same percentage.

When broadcasters consider portrayals of rape, sexual assault or cruelty they are "moving into the territory of, 'you know what, we need to look very carefully at this content,' " said Damian Loscher, managing director of Ipsos MRBI, who was speaking at the presentation of the findings in Dublin's Smock Alley Theatre.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics