Greg Diamond – ByrnesMedia
A client station of ByrnesMedia that I consult was recently smacked by the CBSC for playing the unedited version of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing”… you might have heard about it. Wherever you happened to be on the planet, as it turns out. Okay, on the off chance you are unaware of the situation, a listener in Newfoundland objected to the use of the word “faggot” in the song.
This is now the fourth time I’ve written my thoughts about this. The first three got deleted after proofreading – too caustic! “Assume the lotus position and let the emotion drain away, Greg.” I really did like my “Canadian BS Council” line, though.
I haven’t agreed with every ruling the CBSC has handed down in the past, but I truly do believe the men and women on the various panels have largely done very good work. Let’s face it, though, nobody bats 1.000.
Here’s the decision.
The Atlantic Regional Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code:
CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights
Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 2 – Human Rights
Recognizing that every person has the right to the full enjoyment of certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 7 – Degrading Material
Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of degrading material, whether reflected in words, sounds, images or by other means, which is based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 9 – Language and Terminology
Broadcasters shall be sensitive to, and avoid, the usage of derogatory or inappropriate language or terminology in references to individuals or groups based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
b) It is understood that language and terminology evolve over time. Some language and terminology may be inappropriate when used with respect to identifiable groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. Broadcasters shall remain vigilant with respect to the evolving appropriateness or inappropriateness of particular words and phrases, keeping in mind prevailing community standards.
CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 10 – Contextual Considerations
Broadcasts may fairly include material that would otherwise appear to breach one of the foregoing provisions in the following contextual circumstances:
a) Legitimate artistic usage: Individuals who are themselves bigoted or intolerant may be part of a fictional or non-fictional program, provided that the program is not itself abusive or unduly discriminatory.
The Panel Adjudicators read all of the correspondence and listened to the challenged broadcast of the song. The Panel concludes that CHOZ-FM breached Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics, and Clauses 2 and 7 of the Equitable Portrayal Code. The Panel also found that CHOZ-FM breached Clause 9 of the Equitable Portrayal Code and that Clause 10(a) of that Code did not relieve CHOZ-FM of those breaches.
The very last sentence is the arguing point here. The panel concluded “that Clause 10(a) of that Code did not relieve CHOZ-FM of those breaches.” So, they felt the song does not portray “Individuals who are themselves bigoted or intolerant…” It should be noted that the decision was actually preceded with the lyrics of the entire song. Maybe I’m naïve, but I have a great deal of trouble understanding how anyone could not see that the context is in complete compliance with Clause 10(a). In fact, the lyrics are pretty obvious. The LGBT community is not being ridiculed; instead it’s bigots themselves that are being made fun of – I think most people have had a clear understanding of what the song has been about over the 25+ years it’s been played. As such, I feel strongly that Clause 10(a) was not applied properly in this instance and if it had, it would have also trumped the argument that the term is no longer accepted.
Before citing past decisions to validate their ruling, the point was made that “The CBSC has long established the principle that songs broadcast on the airwaves are as subject to the provisions of the CBSC-administered Codes as any other broadcast content.” Fair enough. I’m curious, though, as to why every example given was for spoken word content that was aired either minimally or just once. No previous musical precedent was given. The problem here, as I see it, is that to say both a song and a comedy skit or morning show bit are apples is, at best, taking an easy way out, or, at worst, just wrong. By not taking into consideration the number of times the song was played in its unedited version and they, without complaint, is to disregard the will of the whole at the behest of the one.
The biggest sticking point I’ve always had with the CBSC revolves around the ‘single-complaint-dictates’ mandate. I appreciate that laws are created largely on such a basis, but don’t you think it’s time we put a little realism back into our self-regulating body and reexamine at what point the CBSC is actually called to action? How about a percentage of cume? As it stands now, the single complaint accounted for around .00002% of OZ-FM’s central market circulation. That just doesn’t strike me as fair. What if we instituted a .1% threshold? In this case, it would have taken just under 50 complaints to call the CBSC to action. Whatever figure is derived at, the point is that we should at least discuss a more reasonable trigger point. If people really want something changed, then historically they band together to do so. It’s called a petition. Heck, from time to time it’s even called an election.
The other problem I have with the CBSC at present is the lack of an appeal mechanism. I was also slightly taken aback when Ronald Cohen, the CBSC’s National Chair replied that an appeals process would be “cumbersome”. So, if I’m to understand that correctly, the reason a station can’t cry foul is because it’s too much work? It seems to me that if a decision is made that could potentially impact the whole of society, then it’s only fair that the same governing body should be able to uphold its ruling through further examination. If, by chance, a mistake has been made, don’t we owe to everybody to reexamine it and if necessary make corrections? As of right now, that’s just not a possibility – too bad.
I was also bewildered by Mr. Cohen’s response to the mounting criticism of the ruling. When asked about it, he responded “The number of complaints is irrelevant…” Now, let’s backtrack a bit. It took only one person to create this turmoil, but the CBSC continues to refuse to reopen the file no matter how many people come out against it. That’s a naked double standard, plain and simple and if that’s not reason enough to review their processes, then I don’t know what is.
If a complaint needs to be formally lodged before action is taken, then I’m thinking I’ll send one in. “Dear Mr. CBSC Member. I recently heard the edited version of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” on my local radio station, CXXX-FM. I take great offense to this rendering of what I consider to be a timeless classic. Therefore, I would like to lodge a complaint based on discrimination towards artistic expression. Songwriters are being unduly preyed upon by the Canadian radio industry and these egregious acts must be forced to cease immediately. Yours humbly, Greg Diamond.”
Okay, I’m getting slightly acerbic again, so let’s bring this to a close.
I firmly believe that should the CBSC fail to take another look at this decision and at least consider the views of those countless individuals that do not agree, then an atmosphere of arrogance has settled upon it and in doing so leaves it in a state of disassociation and disrepute. A review is not only warranted, but is simply the right thing to do.
HOLD THE PRESSES!
The CRTC issued the following release on the morning of Friday, January 21st:
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission today wrote to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) asking it to review its determination that the unedited version of the song “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits was inappropriate for Canadian radio. On January 12, 2011, the CBSC’s Atlantic Regional Panel found that the use of a derogatory word in the song breached broadcast codes.
The CBSC’s decision has elicited a strong public reaction and created uncertainty for private radio stations across the country. The Commission has received over 250 letters from Canadians, most of which questioned the decision. These letters have been forwarded to the CBSC.
Given the exceptional nature of this situation, the Commission has asked the CBSC to appoint a panel with a national composition to review the complaints regarding the Dire Straits’ song as well as its original decision.
The Commission expects that the council will seek further comments from the public on the matter. Furthermore, the CBSC should take into consideration all relevant factors, including:
- the context of the particular wording in the song’s theme and intended message
- the age and origin of the song and the performance date
- the prominence of the contested word and the use of that word over time, and
I didn’t see that one coming, but the Commission has received so much feedback on this that they really had no choice but to reopen things for the CBSC.
Here’s hoping they get it right the second time.
the length of time and frequency that it has been playing on the radio.