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I've watched Top Gear (UK) for all its 21 seasons. Recently, season 22 started airing and I managed to catch the first episode. What surprised me is that it is rated as TV-MA and they have explicit language. I've always heard the F-word and the four letter S-word get bleeped in Top Gear in the past, when either the presenters or the guests said it, but this time there is no bleeping or blurring. While I am quite happy that there is no censorship, I am surprised that such language is allowed on UK TV. Why is that so?

And more generally, can TV shows in UK air profanity like that? I am only familiar with the television censorship in US and here on network TV, you can hardly swear. On cable TV you can swear some more, and say things like s**t etc. On premium cable like HBO, all bets are off. How about across the pond? What can you and can't you say on BBC?

  • In the US profanity is legal at any time on any cable broadcast, however each company has it's own S&P department that regulates their rules. As far as network TV they can broadcast anything they want after 10PM. But again internal S&P usually don't allow them to, even with the safe harbor period. Congress and the courts have instructed the Commission (FCC) only to enforce the indecency standard between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., local time. Constitutionally-protected free speech rights of adults are balanced with the need to protect children. – Ben Plont Mar 2 '15 at 18:05
  • Probably, the host Jeremy Clarkson's idea. He is a grumpy old man after all. – user19704 Mar 16 '15 at 21:57
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In the UK there is something called "The Watershed" this rule applies to all broadcasters within the UK and is usually considered to be the hours between 9pm and 5:30am. This doesn't mean that straight after 9pm you can switch from family friendly to more adult material - the strongest material should be shown later in the evening.

Programs shown before 9pm are required to be safe for viewing by children. This includes the following:

  • Sexually explicit material
  • Violent material
  • Strong language
  • Content that is extremely graphic or may cause distress

Usually if content contains these elements and is broadcast before 9PM, the content will be edited to remove such content (or bleeping applied to hide language). Programs broadcast after 9PM do not get censored in this manner but will probably be introduced with a content warning ("This program may contain scenes that cause distress", "This program contains strong language", etc).

There are many documented instances of "unsuitable" content being broadcast before the watershed starts, and Top Gear is somewhat notorious for pushing the boundaries in this regard anyway - as you don't seem to be in the UK, you should be aware that Top Gear has contained swearing for quite some time and it's likely your own broadcasters that are no longer censoring it.

More reading

  • Top Gear is still shown at 8pm in the UK, so any swearing should still be bleeped. – DisgruntledGoat Mar 3 '15 at 18:38
  • Yes, as DisgruntledGoat said, Top Gear is still aired at 8pm in UK. What I observed was the first episode of current series of Top Gear (series 22) was uncensored. I heard Jeremy say the F-word once with the guest and Hammond said the F-word and some other profanities while biking in the race segment. Second episode was censored. I did not catch the rest yet. On Amazon.com, season 22 has a TV-MA rating and a warning of explicit language. Also, Jeremy said the first episode was simulcast to several countries. Did that effect the way it was not censored, while the second episode was censored? – lite-whowantstoknow Mar 3 '15 at 19:49

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