CIOX-FM re the song entitled “Boyz in the Hood”

ONTARIO REGIONAL COUNCIL
(CBSC Decision 99/00-0619)
R. Stanbury (Chair), P. Fockler (Vice-Chair), M. Hogarth (ad hoc),S. Whiting and M. Ziniak

THE FACTS
This is the second of two decisions of the Ontario Regional Council of this date whichdeal with the issue of song lyrics. In the other, CIGL-FM re a song entitled “TheBad Touch” (CBSC Decision 99/00-0654, October 12, 2000), the Council hasdiscussed the general issue of broadcaster responsibility for song lyrics in some detail.

In this case, the song entitled “Boyz in the Hood”, performed by the bandDynamite Hack, was broadcast on an unspecified date but likely on more than one occasionby CIOX-FM (Ottawa) during the month of May 2000. That portion of the lyrics most relevantto this decision broadcast by CIOX-FM is as follows (the complete transcript of the songas broadcast by the station can be found in Appendix A):

Greeted with a 40 and I start drinking
And from the eight ball my breath starts stinking
Gotta get my girl to rock that body
Before I left I hit the Bacardi
Pulled to the house get her out of the pad
The bitch said something to make me mad
She said something that I couldn't believe
So I grabbed the stupid bitch by her nappy ass weave
Started talking shit wouldn't you know
I reached back like a pimp and I slapped the ho
Then her father stood up and he started to shout
So I threw a right cross and knocked his old ass out

In a letter dated May 29 (which is reproduced in full in AppendixB), initially sent to the CRTC and forwarded to the CBSC in the ordinary course, thecomplainant deplored the “violence against women” depicted in the song, as wellas “the extreme nature of these lyrics.”

The station's Manager responded with a letter (reproduced in full in Appendix B), inwhich he stated, in part, that:

This particular selection is a widely exposed song thatis receiving airplay not only on Xfm, but all across North America on radio stations withsimilar formats.

From time to time we come across a song that containsspecific lyrical reference or subject matter that may not be suitable or compatible withall tastes and interests of our audience. Indeed, that some listeners may find offensive.

This obviously is the case as it applies to yourinterpretation of the selection in question and the obvious effect it had on you. That'sregretful on our part.

The complainant was unsatisfied with the broadcaster's response and requested, on June29, that the CBSC refer the matter to the Ontario Regional Council for adjudication.

THE DECISION

The CBSCs Ontario Regional Council considered the complaint under the combined effectof all of the codes created by Canada's private broadcasters. Among these were theCanadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) Code of Ethics and Sex-RolePortrayal Code, as well as its Violence Code. Among the relevant Codeprovisions are those cited below, which read in pertinent part as follows:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2

Recognizing that every person has a right to full andequal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shallendeavour to ensure, to the best of their ability, that their programming contains noabusive or discriminatory material which is based on matters of … sex.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6, Paragraph 3

It is recognized that the full, fair and properpresentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial is the prime and fundamentalresponsibility of the broadcast publisher.

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 15

Recognizing that stereotyping images can and do causenegative influences, it shall be the responsibility of broadcasters to exhibit, to thebest of their ability, a conscious sensitivity to the problems related to sex-rolestereotyping, by refraining from exploitation….

CAB Violence Code, Article 7.1 (Violence Against Women)

Broadcasters shall not telecast programming whichsanctions, promotes or glamorizes any aspect of violence against women.

The Regional Council members listened to a tape of the song in question and reviewedall of the correspondence. The Council is of the view that the song lyrics in question arein breach of the Code provisions mentioned above.

The Preliminary Issue of the Application of Broadcaster Codes to Songs

Since the other decision of this Council of today's date, namely, CIGL-FM re a songentitled “The Bad Touch” (CBSC Decision 99/00-0654, October 12, 2000),deals with this issue at some length, it is unnecessary for any lengthy discussion of thematter here. Suffice it to include the following words of this Council in that decision:

In other words, it is not the intention of the Codes thatany material broadcast by one of its programming undertaking members be exempt fromconsideration thereunder. Whether it is spoken word or set to music, the same rules apply.Music is, after all, no more or less a form of programming than other dramatic,documentary, news or, indeed, advertising material, all of which must conform to the termsof the various Canadian private broadcaster Codes.

It is also appropriate to add that both the music recording industry and Canada'sprivate broadcasters are aware that there are often edited versions of songs, one fordirect sale and the other for radio play. They often, therefore, have the choice of whichversion of a song to play or, in circumstances where they do not, their choice is reducedto whether the song is or is not suitable for airing in terms of the Codes with which theyhave agreed to comply. As this Council has said in the Bad Touch decision,

It should, moreover, be noted that music recordingcompanies, like distributors of motion pictures, generally create more than one version oftheir respective products. They understand that, in order to facilitate theresponsibilities of broadcasters and to render broadcast markets more accessible to theirproducts, they must provide versions that are susceptible of being aired. Whilebroadcasters themselves frequently edit motion pictures, whether for content or to ensurethat there are appropriate breaks for commercials, it is obvious that recorded popularsongs are not as readily susceptible of broadcaster intervention. The decision for thebroadcaster, when there is no edited version of a song, may, therefore, become, in blackand white terms, whether to play or not to play. Knowing that, in order to assure airtime, recording companies frequently provide a second version which they consider suitablefor radio broadcast.

In this case, the Council is unaware whether an edited version of the song wasavailable. That is, however, immaterial. Its decision is made as a function of the song asit was played on the air in the month of May.

Offensive Language

With respect to the issue of offensive language, the CBSC Regional Councils havegenerally referred to the requirement that broadcasters ensure the “proper …presentation of … opinion, comment or editorial” when dealing with complaintsconcerning offensive language. In its first decision regarding the use of vulgar oroffensive language on the airwaves, CFRA-AM re Steve Madely (CBSC Decision93/94-0295, November 15, 1994), this Council established the “broad socialnorms” test, which was described in the following terms:

In its determination of what constitutes “obscene orprofane language”, Council considered that current broad social norms must beapplied. The Council also had to face the fact that some language which may at anothertime have been broadly considered obscene or profane had now slipped into common andmarginally acceptable usage. Terms formerly considered blasphemous or irreligious aretoday non-religious and inoffensive to the population as a whole, even if perhaps in poortaste. In general, the Regional Council concluded that there may be words which ought notto be used in the medium but whose use could not be raised to the level of profanity orobscenity.

In CJOH-TV re “White Men Can't Jump” (CBSC Decision 94/95-0060,March 12, 1996), this Council observed that the feature film based on the street life ofCalifornia was “replete with epithets and very coarse street language.” TheCouncil, in finding no Code breach, made the following comments:

The Council is entirely in agreement with the complainantthat the language is coarse, even incessantly so for at least the first half hour of thefilm. The Council is equally of the view that the language used is that of the streets ofCalifornia portrayed in the motion picture.

Despite that characterization, in reliance of its earlier Madely decision, theCouncil concluded that the language used fell within socially admissible norms:

[T]he Council considers that the same principles areapplicable and that it cannot interfere with the broadcaster's choice to air the film. TheCouncil also adopts the conclusion of the Ontario Regional Council in the Madelydecision, namely, “While good taste and judgement might have dictated the non-use ofthe expression on the public airwaves, it was not a sanctionable use.”

In another decision, CIQC-AM re Galganov in the Morning (CBSC Decision97/98-0473, August 14, 1998), regarding a morning talk-show hosted by well-known politicalcampaigner for the rights of English-language Quebeckers, the Quebec Regional Council madethe following statements regarding the vulgarity of the host's language:

When the Council considers the language which hasoffended the complainant in this case, i.e. words such as “kiss-ass”,”son-of-a bitch”, “puke” and “crap”, it is unable todetermine that this language is any worse, although certainly more repetitious, than thewords used in the matters considered above. Applying the “broad social norms”test, the Council concludes that no Code has been violated. In coming to this conclusion,the Council has taken into consideration the fact that Galganov in the Morningaddresses primarily an adult audience. Had the target audience been more youth-oriented,the Council's conclusion may have been different; however, it remains the case that themajority of listeners to the show in question are adults. In the circumstances, theCouncil sees no overriding societal interest in curtailing the broadcaster's right tofreedom of expression and, therefore, considers that concerns about the crude and vulgarlanguage in Galganov in the Morning should be “regulated” in the sameway as other matters of taste, i.e. via the on/off or dial button.

In this case, the Council agrees that the song “Boyz in the Hood” is repletewith examples of what is often called “street language”. While the language usedin this case is not dissimilar to the language used in the movie White Men Can't Jump,the Council cannot fail to observe that, regrettably for some listeners, the safeguardsavailable to television viewers, such as the classification system, viewer advisories andrating icons, cannot reasonably be present in the context of radio programming.

While, in the Galganov decision, the Quebec Regional Council held that thelanguage used by the host was not in breach of the Code but might have been had”the target audience been more youth-oriented”, in the present case, the Councilhas no information regarding the time of broadcast which might enable it to evaluate theextent to which the target audience was young enough to push its assessment into anotherplace. While logic would suggest that the audience was younger rather than older, theCouncil is in no position to assume that it was problematically younger.Consequently, it cannot find a Code breach on this basis.

Sanctioning, Promoting and Glamorizing Violence Against Women

While it is clear that the prohibition against sanctioning, promoting or glamorizingany aspect of violence against women is found in the Code dealing with violence ontelevision, the Council does not assume that Canada's private broadcasters hadintended their strong and unequivocal prohibition of such aggressively anti-womanbehaviour to extend no further than the television screen. The Council considers that,while the Violence Code was created to deal with a series of content issues farlikelier to be present in that medium than in the different style of programming in theradio sphere, the broadcasters did not believe that that prohibitory principle ought notto benefit women across the broadcast spectrum. Moreover, the Council understands that thefreedom of persons from abusive or discriminatory comment based on their genderin the human rights provision of the Code of Ethics would include an entitlementto be free from the promotion of physical violence in either medium. Moreover, therecognition of the dangers of “stereotyping images” and the mandating of”conscious sensitivity to the problems related to sex-role stereotyping, byrefraining from exploitation” in Clause 15 of the medium-neutral Code of Ethicswould equally intend to provide such protection from physical abusive language content.

In one television decision in which the violence against women was found to beexcessive, namely, CHCH-TV re the movie Strange Days (CBSC Decision 98/99-0043and 0075, February 3, 1999), this Council also stated that

[t]he matter is exacerbated by the requirement of Article7 to the effect that “Broadcasters shall be particularly sensitive not to perpetuatethe link between women in a sexual context and women as victims of violence.”

In the present case, the Council has a similar concern. The juxtaposition of lyricssuch as “Gotta get my girl to rock that body” with such violent imagery as”I reached back like a pimp and I slapped the ho” clearly perpetuate the linkbetween women in a sexual context and women as victims of violence. The lyrics portray thewoman in question as a “stupid bitch” and a “ho”, whose “talkin'shit” warranted the violent reaction by her partner. Whether the intention of thesong is serious or satirical, the Council finds that the lyrics, in their sanctioning,promotion or glamorizing of violence against women, constitute abusive commentary on thebasis of gender and are insensitive to the dangers of stereotyping generally and to theexploitative linking of sexual and violent elements in dealing with women.

The Broadcaster's Response

In addition to assessing the relevance of the Codes to the complaint, the CBSC alwaysassesses the responsiveness of the broadcaster to the substance of the complaint.In this case, the Council finds that the broadcaster's reply was barelysatisfactory. It appears to place weight on the fact that the song is a widely exposedsong which is receiving airplay across North America. The letter did no more than describethe factors considered by the station when determining which selections will be broadcast.It would have been more appropriate for the broadcaster, even in arguing in support of itsown position, to deal more thoughtfully with the specific issues raised by thecomplainant.

CONTENT OF THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DECISION

The station is required to announce this decision forthwith, in the following terms,during peak listening hours and, within the next thirty days, to provide confirmation ofthe airing of the statement to the CBSC and to the complainant who filed the RulingRequest.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CIOX-FM has breached provisionsof the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics in its broadcast ofthe song “Boyz in the Hood” in May 2000. By broadcasting that song, whichcontained abusive lyrics that had the effect of sanctioning, promoting and glamorizingviolence against women, CIOX-FM violated the provisions of the CAB Code of Ethicswhich do not permit the airing of exploitative or abusively discriminatory comments on thebasis of gender.

This decision is a public document upon its release by the Canadian BroadcastStandards Council.