Reminder: All Clips With Offensive Language Must Be Vetted
Quite a few folks have joined NPR or switched roles since we wrote in 2015 that there are “No Exceptions: Clips With Offensive Language Must Be Vetted.” They aren’t the only staffers who should know what follows, of course.
Here are the key points [with a few tweaks] from that post:
1. We have a detailed “Policy On Use Of Potentially Offensive Language.” Print it and read it.
2. Any clip [being considered for broadcast that includes] offensive language must be brought to the attention of the [deputy managing editors and standards & practices editor] well before air time. Basically, as soon as you think you might be using it, talk to them. They may need time to consult with Legal.
Note: It does not matter if the words have already been bleeped. Be prepared to justify their use.
By the way, it’s assumed show executive producers and desk chiefs will already have been consulted.
3. The DMEs [or standards & practices editor] have yea-or-nay authority.
4. [Notes to stations must detail] the specific language that is in the cut, when it occurs and whether it is bleeped. Those lines must go out with as much lead time as we can give.
5. If the words are bleeped, they must be completely bleeped. No syllable can be heard.
6. We do all this because we respect our audience and know that certain language will offend many. We also know that community standards vary around the nation and that complaints to the FCC can be costly to our member stations.
7. Overall, NPR is conservative about potentially offensive language — not permissive. There’s a key line right at the top of our policy statement: “NPR has always set a high bar on use of language that may be offensive to our audience.” The words must be important to the piece.
- It is not true that “anything goes” on podcasts. We respect those audiences as well. While some types of language may be OK on some types of podcasts, we do so carefully, give listeners advance notice and put “explicit” labels on episodes including such language. Also, NPR journalists do not use offensive language in podcasts, just as they wouldn’t on the air.
- If only one or two words in a piece are bleeped for broadcast, it may not be necessary to warn listeners that there’s such language in the report. But do consult with the DMEs and/or standards & practices editor.
- There is no official list of words or phrases that fall into the “offensive” category. That said, we all know what some of them are. Others are less obvious because their original meanings have been forgotten. Do a search on the term “offensive phrases” and you’ll likely be surprised by what you find.
- The spoken language does not matter. Offensive words or phrases in clips from non-English speakers also must be vetted. Have someone who speaks the language listen carefully to the clip — and be aware that a word’s offensiveness may vary from one country to the next.
- We have to treat references to sex, sexual organs and excretory functions with the same care and processes. The DMEs and/or standards & practices editor must be consulted. Yes, this will lead to fascinating discussions about when “crap” is “crap.”
- Hate speech is also offensive and needs to be considered carefully. As we’ve said:
“We do not want to sanitize such comments or shield the audience from them if they are important to our stories. We do, though, want to give the question of whether to include hate speech in our reports the same sort of careful thought that we give to other forms of offensive language. The framing, for instance, has to be correct. Is a warning or other type of heads up needed? Is the audience owed an acknowledgement that what they heard is highly offensive? How should the speaker be challenged about what was just said?
(“Memmos;” Aug. 28, 2018)
August 28, 2018