CANBERRA (Reuters) - Foul-mouthed UK chef Gordon Ramsay prompted Australia’s parliament on Thursday to push for tighter rules to protect viewers from swearing on television.
Ramsay’s programmes are ratings winners on free-to-air television in Australia, but prompted outrage earlier this year when one episode featured the volatile chef using a four-letter expletive more than 80 times in 40 minutes.
The Catholic church called for his shows to be scrapped or shown at a later time, and now an inquiry by the Senate, Australia’s upper house, has urged better warnings on programmes and new ways for television stations to deal with complaints.
“People were offended by the way Ramsay directed his language towards restaurant staff in an abusive and aggressive manner,” inquiry chairwoman Anne McEwen told parliament, saying submissions expressed concern about his swearing and attitudes.
The inquiry stopped short of calling for new laws to tighten censorship, but made 20 recommendations to television stations to review the way they rate programmes, what they consider to be coarse language, and how they respond to complaints.
The row came a year after authorities in Britain banned an Australian tourism campaign as offensive for featuring a bikini-clad model who asked “where the bloody hell are you?”.
The Senate findings comes as Australia debates standards of language and behaviour. A government politician is under fire for allegedly abusing staff at a nightclub north of Sydney, and for telling a pregnant rival her baby would be born a “demon”.
The issue has consumed the Australian media, with prominent columnist Piers Akerman in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph saying Australia was becoming a less civil society.
Governor-General Michael Jeffery, who represents the Queen as Australian head of state, told a newspaper interviewer that television programmes glorified bad manners and foul language.
“There is a culture of crudeness. Crudeness in our language in high public life. The language you see coming out over the television, the language in political areas in some parts. It’s a crudity which I don’t think is a good thing,” Jeffery told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Australia’s Nine Network, which broadcasts Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares programmes, strongly defended the shows, which it said were among the nation’s most popular.
In an inquiry submission, executives defended Ramsay’s use of expletives, saying the chef sometimes used them as praise.
Network director of regulatory affairs David Coleman told the inquiry that ratings for the Ramsay programmes had increased since the public debate about swearing on television, with a typical programme now attracting 1.4 million viewers.
He said the network had received only 12 written complaints about the episode which prompted the Senate inquiry.
“That is one written complaint for about every 117,000 viewers. I think that suggests we are not out of step with community standards,” he said.
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