Case Number: 3456

Council Meeting: December 2023

Decision: No Grounds to Proceed

Publication: The Listener

Principle: Comment and Fact

Ruling Categories: Offensive Language
Taste Lack of

Mary Mountier complained about the use of the word “fuck” in The Listener. She referred to an article on October 14, 2023, in which a rugby coach was reported to have told his team to “Let’s fuck them up physically.”

She said she had noticed its use several times in previous months. In her view it undermined The Listener’s status and urged it to follow the convention of other publications which did not spell the word out but instead wrote it as “f...”. She believed the word was still widely regarded as indecent. It seemed unnecessary and offensive.

The Listener replied that a review of its style guide came to the decision to allow it in reported speech or quotes relevant to a story and that it should never be used gratuitously. This was in step with what similar publications had done.

“Publications we would consider hold themselves to similar editorial standards in their journalism include The Times’ magazines, Harper’s Magazine, Guardian & Observer magazines, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend and the New Yorker.”

The Listener said while some readers may consider it offensive, in the six months since it made the change, Ms Mountier’s was the only letter of complaint.

Key Media Council roles are to promote media freedom and to maintain the press in accordance with the highest professional standards. Its main remit is to consider complaints on the basis of a set of ethical considerations.

The Council’s remit does not extend to matters of editorial style. Editors are ultimately responsible for what appears in their publications and it is over to them to set style guides in accordance with what they consider to be standards acceptable to their readers.  The word “fuck” is now in common parlance and often appears in the mainstream media, as it does in song and cinema. Times change and what may have been outside the realms of editorial discretion 25 years ago, is now firmly within it.

Decision: There were insufficient grounds to proceed.


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