Taboo or not taboo? What can’t we put on the front page?

It’s not the sort of word that you can say on national radio at around 7am.

So it’s understandable that this morning Chris Evans blurred the title of the movie he’d watched last night.

But, having bottled saying Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, my favourite radio presenter went on to play one of the most risque songs known to man – Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

He cheerfully admitted to not quite understanding the BBC’s compliance rules which allowed such apparent double standards.

So where would we draw the line in our papers and websites?

I’ve worked for editors who variously banned pictures of objects from guns to spiders from their front pages.

There was sense behind all of these policies at the time.

Meanwhile, the kind of words that are now allowed into news stories unasterisked has changed.

Bloody now makes regular appearances, especially if the word is in a quote, for instance.

But there are still clear boundaries.

Although The Guardian has a very open policy on all swear words, even that one, I can’t see our regional papers ever being that courageous, in the Sir Humphrey sense of the term.

I’ve always been more accepting of boundaries being crossed on inside pages, and online, where active choices have to be made to see material.

But front pages are always going to be sensitive territory, facing out into environments where children are a constant presence.

I was in one office recently as a reader berated a features designer for putting too scary a Halloween image on the front of a magazine.

It’s always good to consult your colleagues to get a feel for what they feel is acceptable, although I learned the answer to the question ‘Do you think I can get away with this?’ from one sub was always ‘no’.

But in the end, editors have to go on gut feelings and conscience.

There is, however, no pleasing or predicting some folk.

In my last few months as news editor of the Somerset Guardian, a vegan reader complained about our use of a picture of a pig roast at a popular country fair.

Despite the fact that it would have been seen by hundreds of passing children at the event, she said that promoting such “savagery” was utterly outrageous.

In the nicest possible way, I told her she was talking hogwash.


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