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Broadcasters Issue Covid-19 Inquiry Alerts Over Profanity-laden Content

31 October 2023
2 min.
Broadcasters Issue Covid-19 Inquiry Alerts Over Profanity-laden Content

Swearing Shockwave

Broadcasters covering the Covid-19 Inquiry faced a unique and challenging situation as they had to contend with a profusion of colorful language and expletives. This linguistic uproar was triggered by the testimony of two key figures: Lee Cain, a long-term adviser to Boris Johnson, and Dominic Cummings, the former prime minister's chief adviser.

Unveiling the Profanity

The cause of this linguistic uproar was the testimony of Lee Cain, a long-term adviser to Boris Johnson who had served as No 10's communications director during the pandemic, and Dominic Cummings, the former prime minister's chief adviser. Their WhatsApp messages, often laden with strong language, were unveiled during the inquiry, leading to an outpouring of swear words.

Actions Taken by Broadcasters

Broadcasters live-streaming the inquiry had to promptly address the explicit content, ensuring viewer awareness. The BBC news channel, for instance, prominently displayed an on-screen alert stating, "Caution: Possible Expletives in Coverage." Likewise, Sky News provided an on-screen warning message: "Alert: Potentially Offensive Language."

Key Moments During the Inquiry

At the outset of his testimony, lead counsel to the inquiry, Hugo Keith KC, addressed Mr. Cummings, saying, "Due in large part to your own WhatsApps, Mr. Cummings, we are going to have to coarsen our language somewhat." In response, Mr. Cummings promptly offered an apology. Mr. Keith informed Mr. Cummings of his use of explicit language in emails and WhatsApp messages, where he called ministers derogatory names. Cummings defended himself, saying he was echoing a common sentiment among competent individuals in power, critiquing the handling of the crisis by senior figures.

Ongoing Challenge for Broadcasters

BBC viewers were gently prompted, "As a quick reminder, you're currently tuned in to the unfiltered live coverage of the Covid inquiry. We've encountered some recurring strong language, and we sincerely apologize for any offensive content. Please understand that the content being read aloud is beyond our control. We reiterate our apology for the presence of expletives and strong language in the broadcast."

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