Broadcast of Coarse Language in Song in Breach of Standards, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, September 24, 2002 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the song “Cubically Contained” by the Headstones on CFNY-FM (The Edge 102, Toronto). The challenged song, which contained the f-word, was broadcast at 8:10 pm. A listener complained to the CBSC that his four-year old child was listening to the radio with him when the song was played. The CBSC Ontario Regional Panel agreed and found CFNY-FM in breach of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics.

In its letter of reply to the complainant, the broadcaster explained that an edited version of the song was not available. In previous decisions, though, the CBSC had determined, first, that songs are just as subject to the broadcaster Codes as any other form of programming, and, second, that potentially offensive songs, if unavailable in edited form, would not be playable at certain times of day when children could reasonably be expected to be listening. The Ontario Regional Panel stated that “[t]he decision for the broadcaster, when there is no edited version of a song, may, therefore, become, in black and white terms, whether to play or not to play [at all].”

The Panel also referred to previous decisions involving coarse song lyrics, in particular the f-word and variations thereof, and to research in other English-speaking countries, which has shown that such words are considered to be among the most offensive to their respective populations.

The Panel found CFNY-FM in breach of Clause 6, paragraph 3 of the CAB Code of Ethics for broadcasting the song at a time of day when children could reasonably be expected to be listening to the radio. That Code provision is the one currently applied by the CBSC when treating matters of coarse or offensive language. Clause 6, paragraph 3 recognizes “that the full, fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamental responsibility of the broadcast publisher.”

Canada's private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, gender portrayal and television violence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide. In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic practices first created by the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) in 1970. More than 520 radio and television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab