Well… actually you can. It all depends on the context of the word being used in Canadian media.
Today has been a very interesting day for me. Why? Seeing all of the discourse on the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Committee’s decision to ban the uncensored version of the song “Money for Nothing” by the Dire Straits, from being aired on Canadian Radio. Working in radio myself and always going on and on about how little censorship we have here in Canada makes this a very relevant topic and has the possibility of affecting my job.
Part of my job is too make sure that the programming on The Force 925 keeps to certain standards. Growing up in a society that allows soft porn on regular network television, after 8 pm at night, has definitely shaped the way I look at censorship in the media. At The Force, we have a policy that states, “You are free to play whatever music you want, in its original format, as long as:
- It is not considerably offensive;
- If it does contain profanity, give a disclaimer, prior to playing the song, so if people are listening at work (or even at home), they can self-censor;
- If you are not sure if the song can be construed as being overtly offensive, be safe and give the disclaimer;
- If still in doubt, ask and I’ll tell you how to proceed.”
Some of our American audience (despite it being online radio and not subject to FCC regulations) are still trying to become accustomed to this. I have received a couple comments on it and how they think it will harm our chances of getting advertisers or sponsors. And that is when I politely point out that satellite radio would not exist if this were true and neither would HBO, etc. And if a warning is not sufficient enough for you, then you are free to listen to the thousands of other radio stations. However, most people are cool with it and appreciate that we are not censoring but allowing them the opportunity to tune out if they deem it appropriate.
So, all that being said, why am I so completely okay with today’s ruling from the CBSC?
First, the word faggot has not been completely banned. Just this one song. And to put it in more context, most radio stations played the “radio safe” version which substitutes “faggot” with “mother”, so it was never an issue til now. Except for the words “wop”, “wog” and “guinea”, there are no words that are completely banned from being broadcasted on Canadian television and radio, despite numerous complaints. You can still say: asshole, bitch, shit, fuck, nigger, Jesus Christ (in an expletive context), cunt (even so you, apparently, you can say it on stage in some provinces due to their individual profanity laws), fag and the list can go on.
Second, since the CBSC was founded in 1990 and after hearing numerous complaints, there have only been 2 or 3 songs (that I can think of, off the top of my head. I could very well be wrong on this number) that have been banned from the air waves in its original format. And those that have been banned are not even listed anywhere. There is no list. This is not a blanket thing. Complaints are looked at on a case per case basis. In this instance, it took almost a full year for the CBSC to make their decision.
There decision is based on this one rule, which in part states (emphasis added):
“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.”
And the lyric, which the CBSC thinks, breaches that rule:
The little faggot with the earring and the makeup
Yeah, buddy, that’s his own hair
That little faggot’s got his own jet airplane
That little faggot, he’s a millionaire
Even I, with my ultra liberal point of view, can see how that is largely offensive in today’s age. And even so I can also see how use of the other words above can be seen as largely offensive, well then complain or don’t listen to the station broadcasting music, which you find offensive.
Third, there isn’t a fine or anything punitive involved. All the station in question has to do is inform its listeners of the board’s decision and why the decision was reached. Simple.
In my opinion, I think perhaps why this whole thing has become what it has today is that people assume we have clear-cut standards, when Canada doesn’t. Every thing is decided on a case per case basis, as complaints arise. Nobody has complained about nigger being on the radio yet, so it still airs. There have been complaints regarding its use on television, yet the board has decided it is allowable. So why this one song? Because those assembled for this board hearing (made of broadcasters and professionals) thought it was the right decision. Considering how many complaints they receive, and only a handful songs, out of thousands that could be banned, have been “banned” (not completely), I think the track record is pretty good. Our free speech is safe. This thing about airing music the way the artist intends (which we Canadians brag about) is still largely safe.
For me, the most disappointing thing is how incomplete the reporting has been in this case. I did a search, to read as much as I could, and I found only a few reports which give statements released by the board as to the hows and whys. I think this is creating too much worry that we are facing censorship in Canada. Worry that I personally feel is unfounded. I’ll begin to worry if suddenly more blanket censoring laws are placed in effect, my soft porn is removed from my network television and I have to stop saying swears on air. But as this ruling affects 1 version of 1 song out of millions that I could play, I am quite happy to not play a song that, even though it was okay in the 80s, today… not so much.
I recommend you read the article below (click clip to read) and if you are still completely enraged over today’s ruling, that is fair. We are each entitled to our opinions. But it gives context that has been missing from most other “articles” I’ve seen today on Twitter and Facebook.