WHAT follows is largely bull****. Or maybe not.
Note the asterisks in the opening sentence. Are they necessary? Are we being the guardians of good taste, or are we misguidedly treating mature adult readers as sensitive wee souls?
The matter was raised this week in an email from reader Stuart Neville, who wrote: “I’m sure like many, I found the description of Lisa Montgomery’s abuse in Neil Mackay’s excellent piece on executions (“The state must never be given the power to kill its citizens”, The , January 12) distressing. I didn’t however need to be warned twice about the content, in the same way as I didn’t need to be protected from the word “bullshit” four times in Doug Marr’s piece the previous day (“The ‘big lie’ has polluted politics for centuries”, The , January 11).
“Television is already full of endless warnings and advisories (yes I’m looking at you Talking Pictures TV) and I know The likes to think of itself as a family newspaper, but it’s not a newspaper for children so please stop treating us as such.”
To be fair to be Neil Mackay, the detail of Lisa Montgomery’s abuse – she was executed in Indiana on Wednesday – was indeed disturbing, but did readers need to be forewarned? In this case, apart from anything else, I doubt its efficacy. Did anyone stop reading when so advised?
It has to be said that newspapers do sometimes struggle with graphic content. There is a line to be drawn in how we report matters of sex and violence. We have an obligation to display sensitivity to victims and their families; sometimes we need to accord our readers that same sensitivity.
As for the bull****/bullshit issue, how far should we go in censoring profanity, if indeed we need to at all? We have always made great play of being a family newspaper, but does such a thing still exist? Do children, for example, still read the print edition of The , or is Mr Neville correct in his view?
I think, as with most things in newspapers, a level of common sense is required. Perhaps I should follow Neil Mackay’s example and let you know that I’m about to use some choice language: I am struggling to think of circumstances under which The would print the “c” word, but do we really need to censor commonplace words such as bloody and bastard and crap?
Have I just offended you? I fear that I may have upset a few – possibly more than are rankled by the use of asterisks. If so, apologies. I probably won’t do it again. Unless you wish me to.
Of course, the question of how far we should go to protect readers’ sensibilities of course applies not just to words, but to pictures. More of that next week.
* What do you think? Join the debate at [email protected]