BBC edits out ‘nipples’ over breakfast breastfeeding horror

The BBC has refused to air the word 'nipples' on its Breakfast programme, can reveal, in a decision which highlights a continued discomfort with public breast-feeding.

It was a tough call. Earlier this year a BBC Breakfast producer was recording an interview on tongue-tie – a condition affecting four per cent of babies which can cause problems with breastfeeding.

The interviewee made the mistake of using the word 'nipples' and was asked to do the interview again, omitting the offensive word. Sure enough, when the piece aired there was no sign of any 'nipples' at all.

Visions of 1960s-style domestic scenes, with the father spluttering over his newspaper and the wife tut-tutting over the scrambled eggs, have been averted. The calm equilibrium of middle England has been preserved. So too, though, has an utterly perverse view of this rather important piece of anatomy.

Nipples fall under the 'awkward' category because they are dual-purpose. Western society likes to think about them purely in terms of sex – they are an erogenous zone and should therefore be approached with extreme caution. This applies, as the BBC Breakfast programme has demonstrated, both editorially and physically.

It is wrong to do so. The BBC's embarrassment at using the word 'nipple' in connection with breastfeeding means it remains the preserve of sex and titillation, rather than child rearing or public health.

Too many mothers decide they can't bear the thought of mixing up their breasts with anything as complicated as actual milk production and instead go down the bottle-fed route. Nipples are not to be mentioned. They are becoming a taboo, and they shouldn't be – not even over the breakfast table.

The BBC denies banning the word nipples, as it always does in these instances. Instead it adopts a general shoulder-shrugging stratagem that shies away from coming up with a definitive position altogether.

"There's no policy around the word 'nipples'," a spokesperson says.

"We always think very carefully about the language and images we use and the BBC has guidelines we follow depending on the context of a story and when and where it is being aired."

Right now the BBC is approaching negotiations with the government over its charter renewal at the end of 2016, prompting the latest round of talks at its role in public life.

Politicians shouldn't shy away from taking on the Beeb on issues like this. If they themselves weren't themselves too embarrassed by the idea of nipples, that is.