Bleeping has been used for many years as a means of censoring TV programs to remove content not deemed suitable for "family" or "daytime" viewing and personal information for privacy. The bleep censor is a software module, manually operated by a broadcast technician. A bleep is sometimes accompanied by a digital blur or box over the speaker's mouth in cases where the removed speech may still be easily understood by lip reading.
On closed caption subtitling, bleeped words are usually represented by the phrase "(bleep)", sometimes the phrase "[expletive]" or "[censored]", occasionally hyphens (e.g. f—k f---), and sometimes asterisks (e.g. ****, f***, f**k, f*ck, f#@k or f#@%), remaining faithful to the audio track. Where open captions are used (generally in instances where the speaker is not easily understood), a blank is used where the word is bleeped. Occasionally, bleeping is not reflected in the captions, allowing the unedited dialogue to be seen. Sometimes, a "black bar" can be seen for closed caption bleep.
Bleeping is normally only used in unscripted programs – documentaries, radio features, panel games etc. – since scripted drama and comedy are designed to suit the time of broadcast. In the case of comedies, most bleeping may be for humorous purposes, and other sound effects may be substituted for the bleep tone for comical effect, examples of which include a slide whistle, an infant's cooing, dolphin noises, or a spring "boing".
Other uses of bleep censoring may include reality television and daytime talk shows, where identifying information such as ages, surnames, addresses/hometowns, phone numbers and attempts to advertise a personal business without advanced or appropriate notice will be silenced or bleeped to maintain the subject's privacy (such as seen for subjects arrested in episodes of COPS).
When films are edited for daytime TV, broadcasters usually prefer not to bleep swearing, but cut out the segment containing it, replace the speech with different words, or cover it with silence or a sound effect. In the first example, the film may (unintentionally) become nonsensical or confusing if the removed portion contains an element important to the plot. The bleep is sometimes used for privacy reasons, concealing confidential information such as names and addresses. Bleep censors have seen a rare use in cinema film, for example during Johanna Mason's interview in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, or during Tony Stark's meeting with Senator Stern in Iron Man 2.
Bleeping is commonly used in English-language and Japanese-language broadcasting, but is sometimes/rarely used in some other languages (such as Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, Icelandic, Filipino, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Polish, Russian, and Thai), displaying the varying attitudes between countries; some are more liberal towards swearing, less inclined to use strong profanities in front of a camera in the first place, or unwilling to censor. In the Philippines and Ecuador, undubbed movies on television have profanity muted instead of bleeped.
Advertising in the United Kingdom
Television and radio commercials are not allowed to use bleeps to obscure swearing under BACC/CAP guidelines. However, this does not apply to program trailers or cinema advertisements and "fuck" is beeped out of two cinema advertisements for Johnny Vaughan's Capital FM show and the cinema advertisement for the Family Guy season 5 DVD. An advert for esure insurance released in October 2007 uses the censor bleep, as well as a black star placed over the speaker's mouth, to conceal the name of a competitor company the speaker said she used to use. The Comedy Central advert for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut had a version of "Kyle's Mom's a Bitch" where vulgarities were bleeped out, though the movie itself did not have censorship, and was given a 15 rating, despite a high amount of foul language.
A Barnardo's ad, released in summer 2007, has two versions: one where a boy can be heard saying "fuck off" four times which is restricted to "18" rated cinema screenings, and one where a censor bleep sound obscures the profanity which is still restricted to "15" and "18" rated films. Neither is permitted on UK television.
Trailers for programs containing swearing are usually bleeped until well after the watershed, and it is very rare for any trailer to use the most severe swearwords uncensored.
The UK version of the Adventureland Red Band trailer (the version shown in cinemas) which showed before Funny People and Drag Me to Hell when it was out in UK cinemas had the profanities bleeped out in order to have a 15 certificate.
The Federal Communications Commission has the right to regulate indecent broadcasts. However, the FCC does not actively monitor television broadcasts for indecency violations, nor does it keep a record of television broadcasts. Reports must be documented exclusively by the public and submitted in written form, whether by traditional letter or e-mail.
The FCC is allowed to enforce indecency laws during 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. local time. In addition, for network broadcasts, offensive material seen during watershed in one time zone may be subject to fines and prosecution for stations in earlier time zones: for instance, a program with offensive content broadcast at 10 p.m. Eastern Time/Mountain may fall out of watershed at 9 p.m. Central Time/Pacific Time. To compensate, a channel may only air uncensored material after 1 a.m. Eastern Time so that the broadcast is out of watershed in the contiguous United States.
Cable and satellite channels are subject to regulations on what the FCC considers "obscenity," but are exempt from the FCC's "indecency" and "profanity" regulations, though many police themselves, mainly to appeal to advertisers who would be averse to placing their ads on their programs.
- Family Viewing Hour
- Minced oath
- Radio edit
- Sanitization (classified information)
- Tape delay (broadcasting)
- "Beep" (song), a 2006 song by The Pussycat Dolls which incorporates bleeps; see also the 2010 3OH!3 song "Touchin' on My"
- "I Bet You They Won't Play This Song on the Radio", a song by Eric Idle that uses comic sound effects for many bleeps
- The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet, an American talk show that, in 2008, gained notoriety for using a variation of the bleep censor dubbed a "bleep photo"
- "bleep – definition of bleep by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
- "Obscenity, Indecency and Profanity". FCC.gov. Retrieved 2012-01-19.