Broadcast of Song Containing F-word during Daytime Hours in Breach of Broadcast Standards,Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, May 11, 2005 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision concerning the broadcast of the song “Locked in the Trunk of a Car” by the Tragically Hip aired on CHOM-FM (Montreal).  The song was broadcast at approximately 3:15 pm and contained the phrase “f**ked up”.  The CBSC Quebec Regional Panel found the broadcast in breach of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics.

The CBSC had received a complaint from a listener who objected to the airing of the f-word at times of the day when children could be expected to be listening to the radio.  The Quebec Regional Panel examined the complaint under Clause 9 (Radio Broadcasting) of the CAB Code of Ethics, which requires that radio broadcasters ensure that their programming does not contain unduly coarse or offensive language.  The Panel cited previous CBSC decisions in which CBSC Panels have found a breach of this clause for airing the f-word during daytime hours; however, it took note of the fact that language evolves and it considered that a review of the use of this family of words be considered in due course.  The Panel made the following comments: 

The CBSC has dealt on numerous previous occasions with the broadcast of the f-word and its variations on radio at times of the day when children could reasonably be expected to be listening.  Most of those previous decisions have involved the presence of the f-word in songs, while a smaller number have dealt with the use of the f-word during on-air discussions.  The CBSC has consistently ruled that broadcast of the f-word on radio during daytime and early evening hours constitutes a breach of the CAB Code of Ethics.  The Quebec Panel is aware of the fact that language usage is constantly in a state of evolution, both on the French and English sides of Canada’s heritage.  Formerly unacceptable language gradually but invariably insinuates itself into more common usage and a review of the old and new practice is merited from time to time.  That is likely the case with respect to the f-word and its derivatives, which, after all, appear in noun, verb, adjective, adverb and interjection forms in English.  Some of those forms are more aggressive and some are more benign but all are undoubtedly extremely offensive to certain sectors of Canadian society. 

The Panel also noted that broadcasters often have the choice of playing edited songs, which exclude potentially offensive language, but that, where such versions do not exist, the broadcaster’s only choice may be not to play the unedited version at times of day when children may be expected to be listening to the radio.  It consequently found a breach of the CAB Code of Ethics on this occasion.

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 550 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