Language: determination summary

Issues highlighted in cases relating to Section 2.5 of the Code that have been considered by the Ad Standards Community Panel include:

Obscene terms

There are certain words and terms that when expressed in full the Community Panel will consider as a breach of Section 2.5 of the Code. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • The word ‘fuck’ expressed in full will almost always be a breach of Section 2.5 as a strong and obscene term.
  • The use of the ‘c word’ in full will always be found to breach Section 2.5.
  • While words such as ‘arse’ and ‘bitch’ may be appropriate in some contexts, these may still be considered to be obscene when not used in a manner consistent with accepted colloquial use.
  • The word ‘shit’ is sometimes considered a strong or obscene term by the Community Panel, when used in an aggressive or repetitive manner, especially when in a medium where it would be likely children could see or hear the advertisement.

The Community Panel acknowledges that some people would prefer certain terms were not used, but when a word is not used aggressively or in a medium where children are likely to be exposed to it, or it is used in a colloquial context which is consistent with Australian vernacular, it will not be considered as a breach of the Code. The Community Panel view is:

  • There is a greater acceptability of some obscene terms in advertising which is unlikely to be seen or heard by children, where the terms are appropriate to the context of the advertisement or medium.
  • Advertising which uses the term ‘shit’ is often considered not inappropriate, when consistent with common Australian colloquial usage of such a word.

Obscured terms

When offensive terms are beeped or obscured, the Community Panel considers the context of the advertisement and whether the term is sufficiently disguised.

In some cases the Community Panel has determined that obscuring a term was not sufficient, and upheld the complaints. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Where obscene terms have been insufficiently covered in mediums likely to be seen by children they will still be seen to contain strong and obscene language.
  • Where sound effects have been used to cover someone using an obscene term, if they do not sufficiently cover the word and the term is likely to be considered as inappropriate by most members of the community, it will still breach Section 2.5 of the Code.

In many cases, the Community Panel considered that obscuring an obscene term so that it was not clear what is being said, in a non-aggressive context, is appropriate for use in advertising. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • In advertising, where the term ‘fuck’ is not used in full, and is not used in conjunction with offensive imagery, it is considered to not amount to an inappropriate use of language or language that would be considered strong or obscene.
  • The implication of a mild swear word in an advertisement, which is used in a way consistent with how most people would use the word, is not inappropriate and would not be considered strong or obscene language by most members of the community.
  • Advertising which successfully uses sound effects to cover up terms, to the point of not being able to understand the term used, is appropriate for use.

Religious expressions

Advertisements using religious themed terminology attract complaints about blasphemy or offensiveness to religious beliefs. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • The Community Panel acknowledges that some members of the community with very strong Christian beliefs could find the use of the Lord’s name to be offensive to their faith but considers that most members of the community, including Christians, would find that using the phrases, ‘Thank God’ and ‘Jesus’ as expressions of relief and disbelief is not aggressive and is not attacking or discrediting the Christian faith.

Innuendo and sexual references

Advertising which uses sexual terms and language must be appropriate for the audience. The Community Panel has upheld some advertisements for using sexualised language. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertising which repeatedly uses the word ‘sex’ and sexual language in a medium which is likely to be heard or seen by children will usually be found to breach Section 2.5 of the Code.
  • Advertising which uses explicit sexual terms or references in a medium that would be seen or heard by children will be likely to breach this Section of the Code.
  • Advertising which uses sexualised images can often give a sexualised meaning to accompanying words, which is not appropriate for broad audiences.

Advertising which includes mild innuendo and sexualised terms are often seen as appropriate by the Community Panel. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertising which uses terms such as ‘sex’ in a sensitive way which is appropriate for the relevant audience, will not be seen to breach the Code.
  • Advertisements which feature very mild sexual language, where there is a more likely, non-sexual, interpretation of the language used will not breach the Code.

​Acceptable terms

A variety of terms which are commonly used in the Australian vernacular most often are viewed by the Community Panel as acceptable. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Slang terms for body parts that are commonly used will usually be considered appropriate by the Community Panel.
  • While some members of the community may find certain colloquial terms to be offensive, where the language is not obscene or sexualised it will be considered appropriate for use in advertising.
  • The phrase ‘frigging’ when not used aggressively is not considered a strong or obscene term by the Community Panel, and is a term that most members of the community would view as a more acceptable replacement for stronger words.
  • The use of slang terms are not inappropriate or gratuitous when they are used in their correct form, such as describing bodily functions.
    • Biohazard Trauma And Crime Scene Cleaning – 0204/16.

Aggressive language

The Community Panel may take a stricter view on advertisements where language is used in an aggressive manner, even if the language itself may not be considered strong or obscene. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Repeated use of a phrase in an abusive or aggressive nature will be considered inappropriate even if the language used is only mild.
    • UBD Street Directories – 0364/15

Children using bad language

The Community Panel usually takes a stricter view of strong, bad or disrespectful language when it is spoken by a child rather than an adult. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Implying that a child is using an obscene term will be considered inappropriate.
  • The use of a mild term by a child in a light-hearted manner, where not aggressive, will be considered appropriate by the Community Panel.

Gestures

Gestures are used as communication in conjunction with language and as such the Community Panel considers complaints about gestures used in advertisements under Section 2.5 of the Code. The Community Panel’s view is:

  • Advertising where there is a suggestion of a rude gesture, but the gesture itself is not clear will generally be acceptable.
    • Roadshow Film Distributors – 0335/16
  • While in some context people sticking their middle fingers up is considered aggressive and inappropriate by the Community Panel, advertising in the context of a community service announcement, the light-hearted depiction of people’s middle fingers is likely to be seen as not depicting aggressive or insulting behaviour.