Friday, January 21, 2011

Dire Straits: Canadian censorship may be reviewed

Feathers have been ruffled, fans of both music and free speech are upset, politicians are pointing fingers, and Dire Straits must be wondering why a 25+ year-old song is causing a ruckus in Canada.

As we reported last week, one listener complaint was all it took to get Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” censored on Canada’s broadcast airwaves.

Not banned. Censored.

A listener of OZ-FM in Newfoundland wrote a complaint to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC), the self-regulatory body set up by Canada’s private broadcasters; the Council ruled the song - a radio staple since 1985 - violated the code of ethics on several fronts due to the use of the word "faggot."

Now, the fallout and reaction, from all sides, has been enough to cause such confusion at the government level that Canada’s broadcast regulators, The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) today wrote to the CBSC asking it to review its determination that the unedited version of the song was inappropriate for Canadian radio.

In a CRTC press release, the government states 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.

Feeling the heat last week, CBSC head Ronald Cohen was defiant about the ruling, based on one listener’s complaint. “The number of complaints is irrelevant," Cohen said. "Everybody is on our back about it (but) I think it was absolutely the right decision. This was a word that has no place today on the airwaves." Further, he said, “If there was an appeal process, it would be cumbersome."

“Cumbersome” equals more work for Ronald.

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.

Since the ruling, to get themselves some free press, some classic rock stations promoted their own defiance of the Council’s decision by playing the original version of the song. What moves like this expose is the issue that the CBSC has no real ‘teeth’ to it: there are no penalties, fines, or job losses for stations that ignore the self-regulator. It’s all so typically Canadian: a ruling is more friendly advice than hard regulation.

While the CBSC serves a purpose, it was set up by broadcasters who didn’t want the government (who grants licenses) in their business; now that the government is publicly requesting the Council re-review one of its decisions, it could effectively be seen to be ‘butting in’ on that very business. And, further, if the government is uncomfortable with the outcome of this little dance, particularly in light of the fact that most Canadians think the government is making these decisions anyway, it’s possible that the government may decide it should just take over the whole process for the broadcasting industry.

Talk about political fallout.

Let’s see if Cohen remains defiant; the future of the CBSC may be influenced by the outcome of this one.

For more information, check out the following:

CBSC: Clarification over Dire Straits ruling

CRTC letter to CBSC recommending a re-review of the matter

Dire Straits Dire Straits

Dire Straits – Money For Nothing
On The Night DVD (1993)

See also:

Dire Straits classic censored in Canada