CANADIAN BROADCAST STANDARDS COUNCIL

ad hoc National panel

Review of the Atlantic Regional Panel decision in

CHOZ-FM re the song “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits

(CBSC Review of Decision 09/10-0818)

Decided May 17, 2011

R. Cohen (National Chair), R. Deverell, D. Ish, J. Macdonald, D. Meloul, H. Pawley, S. Warren, M. Ziniak

 

THE FACTS

Dire Straits was a British rock band that brought together Mark Knopfler and other musicians beginning in 1977.  Their first album, Dire Straits, was released in February 1978.  Their fifth album, Brothers in Arms, was released in May 1985.  The song “Money for Nothing”, which is at the centre of this decision and first appeared on that album, rose to No. 1 in the United States on the Billboard 100 in that year.  There is more than one version of the song (more about this point below), but the original version of the song includes lyrics to which a listener to CHOZ-FM (OZ FM, Newfoundland) objected.  The station played that version of the song on February 1, 2010 at 9:15 pm.  The opening lyrics to that version (which is about eight minutes long) were as follows (the full lyrics can be found in Appendix A):

I want my, I want my MTV

I want my, I want my MTV

I want my, I want my MTV

 

Now look at them yo-yos

That’s the way you do it

You play the guitar on the MTV

That ain’t workin’

That’s the way you do it

Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free

Now that ain’t workin’

That’s the way you do it

Let me tell ya, them guys ain’t dumb

Maybe get a blister on your little finger

Maybe get a blister on your thumb

 

We got to install microwave ovens

Custom kitchen deliveries

We got to move these refrigerators

We got to move these colour TVs

 

The little faggot with the earring and the make-up

Yeah, buddy, that’s his own hair

That little faggot’s got his own jet airplane

That little faggot, he’s a millionaire

 

We got to install microwave ovens

Custom kitchen deliveries

We got to move these refrigerators

We got to move these colour TVs

            [...]

The CBSC received a complaint from a listener in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, who expressed objections to the use of the word “faggot” (hereinafter frequently referred to as the other f-word) in the broadcast of the song.  The text of the complaint was as follows:

A song was aired, “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits, and included the word “faggot” a total of three times.  I am aware of other versions of the song, in which the word was replaced with another, and yet OZ FM chose to play and not censor this particular version that I am complaining about.

I find this extremely offensive as a member of the LGBT community and feel that there is absolutely no valid reason for such discriminatory marks to be played on-air.

The station responded to the complainant and explained its decision to air this original version of the song in pertinent part as follows (the full text of all correspondence can be found in Appendix B):

In this specific case, the song in question has been played countless times in its original form, from its #1 release in 1984 to the present day, and continues to be aired on stations across the country in this form.  As this selection has been aired continuously for 25+ years, and the original version is regarded by many as an historically successful and essential rock hit in that form with these particular lyrics, management chose in this specific instance to retain the authenticity of this selection.

The complainant was dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s explanation and asked that the Atlantic Regional Panel consider the complaint.  Her rationale related in part to the highly-acclaimed 2005 Kanye West song “Gold Digger”, which “contains another discriminatory slur, not directed towards sexual orientation, but towards race.”  The complainant pointed out that “When played on OZ FM, this slur is censored despite the song’s achievements.  I fail to see a difference between the two situations.”  She added:

I do not feel the argument in favour of the unabridged version of the song was valid, and it is certainly not strong enough to justify playing such words on the radio.  This word carries an unavoidable connotation of hate.  By airing it unapologetically on the radio, this station is indirectly propagating hate.  Although I can see the value in a timeless classic rock song in its original form, I cannot help but feel that it does not overshadow the importance of ending discrimination.

 

The Atlantic Regional Panel decision

In the ordinary course, the complaint was considered by the Atlantic Regional Panel, which found it justified.  (The text of the decision, which was released on January 12, 2011, can be found in Appendix C.)  In the decision, the Atlantic Panel concluded that CHOZ-FM had breached Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics, and Clauses 2, 7 and 9 of the Equitable Portrayal Code.  The reasons for that decision are, in summary, as follows:

  1. Songs broadcast on the airwaves are as subject to the provisions of the CBSC-administered Codes as any other broadcast content.  The Panel also referred to the well-known existence and role of edited versions of songs created especially for use in radio broadcasting.
  2. The Panel referred to the substance of Clause 9 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, which provides: “It is understood that language and terminology evolve over time.  [...] Broadcasters shall remain vigilant with respect to the evolving appropriateness or inappropriateness of particular words and phrases, keeping in mind prevailing community standards.”  The Panel added that, anecdotally, in the area of racially-charged terminology, some words once possibly viewed as acceptable from a broadcasting perspective, even if not in good taste, had merged into a category of unacceptable usage.
  3. The Panel noted that no other CBSC Panel had been called upon to render an opinion regarding the word “faggot”.  It also observed that “faggot” was less likely than the word “fag” to “benefit” from a benign usage as a double entendre or otherwise, particularly in Canada, and therefore was likelier than “fag” to be problematic.  The Panel also acknowledged that the word “faggot”, although lightly sarcastic in its application in the song, was not used in a “sneering, derisive, nasty tone”.  In the end, the Panel concluded that, like other racially driven words in the English language, “faggot” is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, was no longer so.  The Panel found that it had fallen into a category of unacceptable designations on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
  4. The Panel considered that the primary purpose of Clause 10(a) was to protect longer-form programming in which an idea or context that would otherwise be problematic under one of the negative portrayal provisions of the Equitable Portrayal Code was advanced by one or more of the characters or principals of the program.  The Panel was not of the view that the Clause would generally be of application in the case of a song, in which the exposition of a context would be less likely to be present.  The Panel did not close the door to that possibility but it did not consider that “Money for Nothing” was, in any event, such a song.  The Panel found no case for the application of the exception protecting legitimate artistic usage on this occasion.

There was considerable public reaction to the decision from across the country, expressed both in e-mails and in the print and electronic media.

 

The CRTC request

In a letter to the National Chair of the CBSC, the Secretary General of the CRTC reported that it had “received about 250 letters from all parts of Canada on this topic, most of which have suggested that the CBSC made an incorrect decision, and many of which have urged the Commission to take corrective action.”  (The full text of that letter can be found in Appendix D.)  The CRTC letter also noted that “many of the letters it has received mistakenly have assumed that it was the Commission, and not the CBSC, that determined that the version of the Dire Straits song containing the contested derogatory word was inappropriate for radio airplay.”  Referring to the new “national scope of this matter, the strong public reaction to the Atlantic Panel’s decision, and the considerable experience of the CBSC in reviewing such matters,” the CRTC requested that the “CBSC should appoint a panel with a national composition to reconsider the matter and review the new correspondence regarding this song.”  In that reconsideration, the CRTC requested that the CBSC seek submissions from the public “by means of a public request for comments via your website” and, in so doing, “take into consideration all relevant factors, including”:

 

The ad hoc National Panel

In accordance with the CRTC’s request, the CBSC sought comments from the public via the CBSC website.  And it already had the benefit of some additional useful information relating to the background of the song that it had received from individuals in response to the decision of the Atlantic Regional Panel, material that had not been submitted to the Atlantic Panel at the time of its decision.  The CBSC also convened a specially-constituted Panel made up of experienced Adjudicators from each of the five regions (British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces), as well as the permanently constituted National Panels.  In all, four of the Adjudicators represented the public side and four the broadcasting industry.  None, it goes without saying, had sat on the Atlantic Regional Panel adjudication.  The Panel met on May 17, 2011.

 

The Decision

The ad hoc National Panel examined the complaint under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code:

CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, 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.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 2 – Human Rights

Recognizing that every person has the right to the full enjoyment of certain fundamental rights and freedoms, 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, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 7 – Degrading Material

Broadcasters shall avoid the airing of degrading material, whether reflected in words, sounds, images or by other means, which is based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 9 – Language and Terminology

Broadcasters shall be sensitive to, and avoid, the usage of derogatory or inappropriate language or terminology in references to individuals or groups based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.

[...]

b)         It is understood that language and terminology evolve over time.  Some language and terminology may be inappropriate when used with respect to identifiable groups on the basis of their race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.  Broadcasters shall remain vigilant with respect to the evolving appropriateness or inappropriateness of particular words and phrases, keeping in mind prevailing community standards.

CAB Equitable Portrayal Code, Clause 10 – Contextual Considerations

Broadcasts may fairly include material that would otherwise appear to breach one of the foregoing provisions in the following contextual circumstances:

The ad hoc National Panel Adjudicators read all of the original correspondence and listened to the broadcast in question, and reviewed a summary of all of the pertinent parts of the online submissions received and examined by the CBSC Secretariat.  The Panel unanimously concludes that, in general, the use of the word “faggot” remains inappropriate for broadcast on Canadian airwaves.  With one Adjudicator dissenting, the Panel also concluded that the broadcast of the original version of “Money for Nothing” is, for the reasons related to contextual considerations discussed at greater length below, acceptable.

 

A preliminary point: Valuable new information

At the time of the original Atlantic Regional Panel decision, the Adjudicators did not have much of the information that has subsequently been provided to the CBSC by the public following that Panel’s adjudication.  That information resulted from two principal sources: first, the CBSC’s online solicitation of submissions; and, second, the considerable volume of e-mails from the public reacting to the original decision.  Prior to the rendering of that decision, since the CBSC is not a fact-finding body and does not tend to do original research, the Council was dependent on information coming from the complainant and the broadcaster.  The information offered by the complainant, as would be expected, sustained her position (with which the Atlantic Panel agreed).  That provided to the complainant and the CBSC by the broadcaster did no more than argue that it had vested rights that had in effect been grandfathered by virtue of the age of the song.  In its letter, the broadcaster argued that “Money for Nothing” had “been aired continuously for 25+ years, and that the original version is regarded by many as an historically successful and essential rock hit in that form with these particular lyrics.”  As will be clear from this decision, the National Panel has been alerted to considerable additional information relating to the song’s context, which the Panel finds to be of great value.  While there is no way to be sure, the majority of the National Panel appreciates that, had that information been available to the Adjudicators on the Atlantic Regional Panel at the time of its decision, that Panel might have come to a different conclusion.  While no broadcaster is obliged to provide a complainant with such historically useful material, the National Panel notes that CHOZ-FM might have been able to furnish that information as a part of its response to the complainant.  It did not.  While that is water under the bridge, in the end this Panel does have the additional information and is in a position to render a more fully-informed decision than the Atlantic Panel was.

 

Alternative versions of songs: the general principles

The Atlantic Panel pointed out that the CBSC had long ruled that songs broadcast on the airwaves are as subject to the provisions of the CBSC-administered Codes as any other broadcast content.  In the first CBSC decision dealing with that point, namely, CIGL-FM re a song entitled “The Bad Touch” (CBSC Decision 99/00-0654, October 12, 2000), the Ontario Regional Panel pointed out that

questions have from time to time arisen regarding other kinds of content for which it might seem that broadcasters might not have responsibility.  Among these might be advertising, dramatic programming created by third parties, theatrical motion pictures, on-air telephone calls from the public and, generally, any form of programming not having been created by the broadcaster or persons for whom the broadcaster has direct responsibility.

There is no need to review the various codified standards that have been applied in such adjudications in the present matter; however, there is an aspect of the music-related jurisprudence that is worth noting here; namely, the existence and role of edited versions of songs in broadcasting.  In the above-noted CIGL-FM decision for example, the Ontario Regional Panel put the foregoing general principles in the following terms.

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 terms of the various Canadian private broadcaster Codes.

The Panel added some information about the existence of broadcast-suitable versions of music.

It should, moreover, be noted that music recording companies, like distributors of motion pictures, generally create more than one version of their respective products.  They understand that, in order to facilitate the responsibilities of broadcasters and to render broadcast markets more accessible to their products, they must provide versions that are susceptible of being aired.  While broadcasters themselves frequently edit motion pictures, whether for content or to ensure that there are appropriate breaks for commercials, it is obvious that recorded popular songs are not as readily susceptible of broadcaster intervention.  The 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.  Knowing that, in order to assure air time, recording companies frequently provide a second version which they consider suitable for radio broadcast.

In another decision on that point, taken at the same meeting of the Ontario Regional Panel, namely, CIOX-FM re the song entitled “Boyz in the Hood” (CBSC Decision 99/00-0619, October 12, 2000), that Panel reiterated the above points and noted:

It is also appropriate to add that both the music recording industry and Canada’s private broadcasters are aware that there are often edited versions of songs, one for direct sale and the other for radio play.  They often, therefore, have the choice of which version of a song to play or, in circumstances where they do not, their choice is reduced to whether the song is or is not suitable for airing in terms of the Codes with which they have agreed to comply.  [...]  In this case, the Council is unaware whether an edited version of the song was available.  That is, however, immaterial.  Its decision is made as a function of the song as it was played on the air

The foregoing principles relating to both the application of the codified standards to the wording of songs and the availability of songs edited for radio airplay were central to the decision of the Atlantic Regional Panel in the present matter.  They remain central to the decision of this ad hoc National Panel.

 

Alternative versions of songs: the case of “Money for Nothing”

One of the matters that the National Panel considers has gotten lost in the shuffle is the availability of versions of the song “Money for Nothing” that do not include the challenged word “faggot”.  They are in fact numerous and are to be found in both audio and video formats.  A detailed list of those audio and video recordings is referred to in this section of the decision and provided in Appendix E.  While they are admittedly not germane to the National Panel’s determination of whether the original version of “Money for Nothing” is suitable for broadcast, they do respond to the argument raised by some that an edited version of the song constitutes an imposition or restriction on the creativity of the composer and the band.

In other words, the existence of these alternative versions is particularly important to note since a) they are not new (indeed, they are almost as old as the original version of “Money for Nothing”), and b) the less offensive versions of this song were not imposed on the band by any outside individual or authority (they were in fact created and sung by Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits).  As just presaged, it should also be appreciated that the more benign and less controversial versions of the song have been available since 1985, that is to say, the very year in which the song was first recorded.  And in the following section of this decision, the Panel will deal further with the composer’s own recognition of the controversy created by his wording and with the contextual background for his original choices.

The Albums

In all, there were twelve Dire Straits albums, six of which were studio albums, three of which were live albums and three of which were compilation albums.  Not all of these even included the song “Money for Nothing”, which was after all first recorded in 1985 on the band’s studio album Brothers in Arms.  That version of the song was of course the original full-length recording (with the three uses of the challenged word “faggot”) which was played by CHOZ-FM and gave rise to the Atlantic Regional Panel decision which is the subject of this review.  The only other Dire Straits studio album recorded after Brothers in Arms, namely, On Every Street (1991), does not include “Money for Nothing”.

Of the three Dire Straits live albums, only On the Night (1993) includes “Money for Nothing” and that version of the song is edited so as to include only one reference to the challenged word “faggot”; the band substituted less offensive words in the other two verses.  The stanza in that version reads as follows:

            See that little faggot got his earring, got his make-up on

Tell ya buddy, that’s his own hair

That little mother got his own jet airplane

Little mother trucker, he’s a millionaire

All three compilation albums, namely, Money for Nothing (1988), Sultans of Swing: The Very Best of Dire Straits (1998), and the single-disc version of The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler: Private Investigations (2005) include edited versions of “Money for Nothing”.  In other words, none of those three albums include the challenged word “faggot” in their versions of the song.  There is also a two-disc version of The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler: Private Investigations (2005), which does include the full original version of “Money for Nothing”.

The Live Concerts on YouTube

The National Panel has also sought the video recordings of live concerts during which Dire Straits performed “Money for Nothing” on YouTube, in order to see which versions of the song were played (between 1985 and the break-up of the band in 1995).  While the list in Appendix E may not be absolutely comprehensive (obviously, only a small percentage of the actual concert dates have been recorded and posted on YouTube), it is particularly representative in the sense that the concerts identified in the research are those marked by the largest number of views.  Even those video recordings of concerts on YouTube that followed the dissolution of the band are predominantly characterized by their edited nature.  Indeed, the Panel is particularly struck by the number of such occasions on which an edited version of the song without a single usage of the other f-word was played by Dire Straits or Knopfler alone. In the 23 live concerts on YouTube by either Dire Straits or Mark Knopfler alone (after the break-up of the band), 17 do not include the “other f-word” even once, 5 include it only once, and only one includes all three uses.  It should be added that, in those concerts, the words substituted for “faggot” include: “mother fucker”, “queenie”, “mother”, “trucker”, “mother trucker”, “maggot”, “queen”, “cowboy” and “mama”.

Online retail access to the song

The Panel notes that, of the top 50 versions of “Money for Nothing” offered (as ranked) by iTunes (the largest online retailer of songs), four are the Dire Straits albums Brothers in Arms, Money for Nothing, Sultans of Swing and the two-disc version of the Best of Dire Straits.  Corresponding to the information given above, two of these have the original version with the word “faggot” and two have the fully-edited version.  The only additional iTunes “compilation album” source (but not a Dire Straits album) on which Dire Straits performs “Money for Nothing”, namely, Gods of Guitar provides a fully-edited version of the song.  The remaining sources in the top 50 are all either duplicates, covers, or pop and remixed versions (including Karaoke and workout versions).

 

The Composer’s Context and the Song’s Background

The National Panel has benefited to a considerable extent from both the suggestions made in the critical mass of e-mails received from the public and the research the CBSC Secretariat has done pursuant to those suggestions.  What has become clear to the National Panel is the dramatic intention of songwriter Mark Knopfler in the creation of “Money for Nothing”.  According to Knopfler, he wrote the lyrics from the point of view of a blue-collar worker watching music videos on a television screen in the midst of his own labours.  Bored with his own work and touched with envy at the riches inuring to the benefit of a singer whose workaday talents led to greater rewards with far less bodily sweat, Knopfler’s character expressed his thoughts in the language the songwriter captured nearly verbatim in the shop in which Knopfler heard them.

Knopfler described the song’s composition process in a 1985 interview with Bill Flanagan, author of the book Written in My Soul: Conversations with Rock’s Great Songwriters (1986):

The lead character in “Money for Nothing” is a guy who works in the hardware department in a television/custom kitchen/refrigerator/microwave appliance store. He’s singing the song. I wrote the song when I was actually in the store. I borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store. I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real. It just went better with the song, it was more muscular. I actually used “little faggot,” but there are a couple of good “motherfuckers” in there. I wanted to do a second version that way but I never had time. I’d still love to be able to do it. Even if just the band had it, because it would be the real version. I mean that is the way people speak. I think people still get the general idea. You can use other words that will suggest the general feel.

It also has to do with the context in which a song’s received. If we walk into a hardware store and hear someone say, “Look at that motherfucker” it means nothing to us, but if you hear it in a pop song …

If you hear it in New York it means nothing. If you’re living in Tallahassee then maybe it’s a different thing. There is no way that I would expect people to receive all that in the spirit in which it was intended. They’d probably think I was just being vulgar.

Fifteen years later, in 2000, after the dissolution of the band, Knopfler appeared on Michael Parkinson’s British talk show, Parkinson.  During that interview, Knopfler once again explained the origin of the lyrics.  The relevant portion of that transcript follows:

M. Parkinson: Tell me about “Money for Nothing”, which is one of the most famous songs you wrote and where that came from.

M. Knopfler:   Well, I was in New York, and I was in a, in a, in a kitchen appliance store, um, ah, there you go, like you are, you know [laughter in the crowd], and it had a window.  There was a kitchen display in the window and there’d be a row of microwaves or, you know, cupboards and things like that, and, at the back of the store, there was a big wall of televisions, all, all tuned to MTV. And, um, there was some bonehead who worked for the store, a great big macho guy with a, you know with a checked shirt on and a cap and a pair of work boots, and he had been delivering stuff at the back and he, so he was watching MTV, and he was saying all these great lines about, you know, “that ain’t working” you know, “that’s the way you do it”, stuff like that, “what’s that Hawaiian noises”, he was saying. So, I just thought it was so classic, that I went and asked for a pen and paper and started writing the lines down, you know?  And then when I started putting it to music, again that whole finger and thumb thing [Mark Knopfler started playing his guitar on stage while sitting next to the host.  The familiar sound of the opening rhythm of “Money for Nothing” can be heard with clapping in the background].

 

The use of the word “faggot”

It is of course central to the decision that there be a determination regarding the use of the word “faggot”.  After all, if that word is considered to be acceptable, all other issues relating to context, age, prominence of the word in the song, and the length of time and frequency of its broadcast become academic.  In adjudicating that issue, the Atlantic Regional Panel concluded that,

like other racially driven words in the English language, “faggot” is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so.  The Panel finds that it has fallen into the category of unacceptable designations on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.  In addition to the terms already so categorized by previous CBSC Panels, there are undoubtedly other racial epithets (not yet the subject of CBSC Panel decisions) that would likely fall into the category of words that are inherently problematic.

In consideration of that very issue, the ad hoc National Panel has taken note of the fact that, despite the admittedly considerable critical reaction to the overall conclusion of the Atlantic Panel decision, hardly any e-mailed voices were raised against that Panel’s evaluation of the word “faggot”.  The arguments made by the public tended to relate to issues such as context and the long-term acceptance of the classic song; there was little or no argument made in favour of the public acceptability of the other f-word.  In fact, the National Panel has been quite taken by the emotional quotient of some of the e-mails from those individuals who wrote to express their gratitude for the Atlantic Panel position on a word that had caused many of them personal suffering.  Excerpts from nine of those e-mails, some of which are quite poignant, follow:

[T]hey do not understand why this word is hurtful and offensive.

I [have] been randomly attacked on the street for my sexual orientation. I have had to hear endless streams of hateful language and jokes at the expense of the gays and lesbians in my workplace. I want to thank you for taking steps to making [sic] this hurtful language stop.

I have been called that word in high school, I have had that word hurled at me while I was walking down street from people driving by in a car. I had been called that word by potential employers, I have been called that word by family. Whenever I hear that word, […] I remember their insulting attacks against who I am. […] In fact more than a few times I got that word with a bottle hurled from a car that nearly hit me. When a young person such as myself hears that word and has an identity crisis so deep not even family understands what’s going on that I saw every day, adding that word almost pushed me over the edge. Luckily I’m still here. To some it means nothing and to be honest I understand that. The world has changed and the efforts you made I applaud even though many don’t understand the big deal.

I’m gay. I’ve heard the word “faggot” as people threw glass bottles at me and the guy I was dating. I heard the word “faggot” again when I was kicked and beaten for no other reason than they thought I was gay and thus some kind of threat. I hate the word. It’s used to express hatred. I’d personally be happy never to hear it again.

I would like to commend the CBSC for this ruling and express my thanks. As a Canadian, who also happens to be homosexual, I find it reassuring to know that there will be one less instance of discriminatory language to worry about when listening to the radio.

The word used in this song is vile, disgusting, degrading and most importantly discriminatory and has no place on the radio at anytime, and in any context.  Inappropriate discriminatory hate words and the decision of their usage should take precedence before context.

I just wanted to write and thank the CBSC in correctly identifying discriminatory and offensive language […] This language is offensive to me and I’m grateful for the work you and your team have done. Opponents argue there is only one person opposed to the usage of this word in the song, well I am writing to tell you there is more than one.

As a Canadian, I feel that this type of hate speech is unwelcome on our radio, and that no such language should be permitted simply because “it’s been this way for this long.” Please stand strong in your position.

The word “faggot” is not simply “offensive,” like the five-letter “b-word” or the four-letter “f-word”; this word is painful. Gay men have been called “faggot” while being raped, being bullied and even while being killed. Indeed, I find it disheartening that the majority of people weighing in on this controversy are not from the gay community. It is not for the dominant society (heterosexual people, in this case), to tell a historically marginalized group that they should not feel hurt or offended at the use of this historically degrading term. […] Whoever complained about the use of this term had every right to do so. We do not hear the word “nigger” on the radio; why on earth should we hear the word “faggot”? Just as “nigger” is a politically charged term historically used to erode the dignity and worth of blacks, so too is “faggot” a politically charged term historically used to erode the dignity and worth of homosexuals. [The writer went on to argue that the word “nigger”] itself is still edited because it is the word that is offensive, not the manner in which it is spoken. Just as there is no nice way to call someone a nigger, there is similarly no nice way to call someone a faggot. The word “nigger” is politically charged, as is the word “faggot.” It makes no difference that the singer did not intend to offend anybody. The fact is that these are inherently hurtful, offensive words, and no amount of “free speech” rhetoric can change that.

The National Panel finds no reason to interfere with the conclusion of the Atlantic Regional Panel with respect to the word “faggot”.  It would, however, add to that anodyne conclusion the fact that the word is not merely discriminatory and insulting, but it is also aggressive, hurtful and painful.  Even if there was a time when the word had a more benign connotation, or, even if it did not, was less socially unacceptable, that time is past.  While it is obvious that broadcasters, and society as a whole, have considerable occasion to refer to identifiable groups, the way in which they do so is important.  After all, the power of the broadcast microphone is undeniable.  Broadcasters must take particular care to use language which is neither abusive nor unduly discriminatory and which will not have the effect of desensitizing audiences by spreading the use of hurtful and painful terminology.

The Panel also notes that there are other versions of the song in which the word “faggot” is not included.  It should not be forgotten that those edited versions are the creation of the band itself, as well as the song’s composer.  They are, in that sense, original to Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler, not a third-party imposition or creation.  Out of sensitivity to listeners, it would make sense to the Panel that the inoffensive version of the song be the one chosen for broadcast when there is a risk that some, or many, members of the audience might be offended by the use of the other f-word.

 

Context: The View of the Majority

Nothing has been made clearer to the ad hoc National Panel in the reams of information it has received from the public than the fact that there is a story behind the song.  The National Panel does consider it extremely material that the composer’s language appears not to have had an iota of malevolent or insulting intention.  The words were, as he has consistently explained publicly since 1986, written, indeed virtually recorded verbatim, by him as he observed a guy working in an appliance store in New York City.  As Knopfler said, that “bonehead who worked for the store, a great big macho guy with a, you know with a checked shirt on and a cap and a pair of work boots” was looking up at MTV and bemoaning his fate relative to the musical performer on the television screen.  The composer, apparently captivated by the rather coarse, but very real, language of the labourer, explained that he “borrowed a bit of paper and started to write the song down in the store.  I wanted to use a lot of the language that the real guy actually used when I heard him, because it was more real.  It just went better with the song, it was more muscular.”  It was, in that sense, more a commentary on the worker than the MTV performer.  If anything, it reflected jealousy on the part of the former at the achievements of the latter.

From the perspective of the majority of the National Panel, the song lyrics and their background fall squarely within the exceptions provided in the contextual considerations in Clause 10 of the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.  Although the National Panel is not convinced that the blue-collar worker in the challenged stanza was himself bigoted or intolerant, at worst, if he were such, the situation would be precisely what was anticipated in the opening words of Clause 10(a) (Legitimate artistic usage), namely, “Individuals who are themselves bigoted or intolerant may be part of a fictional or non-fictional program, provided that the program is not itself abusive or unduly discriminatory.”  The majority of the National Panel is, in other words, of the view that the story told in this song, developed at some length over more than eight minutes, provides sufficient plot development, story line and context to justify the application of the legitimate artistic usage exception in Clause 10(a).  The Panel has already made its unanimous views on the unacceptability of the word “faggot” very clear earlier in this decision; however, this contextual consideration alone would justify the usage of that word in the context of the broadcast of this song.

To the foregoing point, the National Panel, once again dependent on its understanding of the composer’s intent and perspective in the creation of “Money for Nothing”, would add that it considers that the exception provided in Clause 10(b) (Comedic, humorous or satirical usage) is also applicable.  While the Panel is clear that “satirical intention or nature of programming is not an absolute defence” to a complaint of unduly negative portrayal, it may be a defence when challenged “satirical content, although discriminatory or stereotypical [is determined to] be light and relatively inoffensive, rather than abusive or unduly discriminatory.”  In that assessment, the Panel is applying the pertinent part of the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “satire”:

1. A poem, or in modern use sometimes a prose composition, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule. Sometimes, less correctly, applied to a composition in verse or prose intended to ridicule a particular person or class of persons, a lampoon.

c. fig. A thing, fact, or circumstance that has the effect of making some person or thing ridiculous.

2. a. The species of literature constituted by satires; satirical composition.

b. The employment, in speaking or writing, of sarcasm, irony, ridicule, etc. in exposing, denouncing, deriding, or ridiculing vice, folly, indecorum, abuses, or evils of any kind.

The majority of the Panel concludes that Mark Knopfler has satirized the jealous attitude of the “bonehead in the checked shirt” who was his inspiration and that he has done so deftly, and with a light and genuine touch.  The Panel concludes that this contextual consideration would also on its own justify the usage of the otherwise unacceptable word “faggot” in the context of the broadcast of this song.

 

Context: The Dissenting View of of R. Deverell

I disagree with the majority on one principal aspect of their conclusion, but I will begin by indicating the points on which I agree.  First, the word “faggot”.  I share the majority’s view that the word is aggressive, hurtful, painful and insulting, as well as abusive and unduly discriminatory.  Second, I agree that the age and origin of the song and recognitions it earned around the time of its release do not protect its broadcast today.  

Where I part company with the majority is over the issue of context.  It is their view that the composer’s explanation of the source and nature of his inspiration was highly material.  As they explain in the majority opinion, “the fact that there is a story behind the song”, and that the composer “appears not to have had an iota of malevolent or insulting intention” are material contextual justifications for the use of the challenged word in the song.  It is their view that the use of the word “faggot” fell within the contextual exceptions of “legitimate artistic usage” and “comedic, humorous or satirical usage”.

As to the principle that context may be relevant in justifying an otherwise inappropriate term or description, I am in entire agreement.  What I question is how we determine what that context is.  Indeed, I put some emphasis on the word “we” for I believe that the context should not be appreciated or evaluated through the ears and eyes of the Panel.  The context, in this or any future situation, should be assessed through the ears and eyes of the public.  The context should not be the result of documentary submissions or research off the airwaves; it should be evident from the actual broadcast.  There may be circumstances where bigoted content is evident on the air such as in the personas of some of the lead characters on the iconic 1970s television series All in the Family, or the spin-off series The Jeffersons.  Indeed, there are examples galore in which a television or radio broadcast provides evident context.  I am not, however, persuaded, even if a song may on occasion be its own context, that this song does that.

The issue for me is how the listeners have the necessary contextual information.  While I would understand the broadcast of the song with an introduction that provided the Mark Knopfler composition background, I do not find the contextual evidence present in the broadcast of the song with which the Atlantic Regional Panel dealt.  I believe that many of the people criticizing that Panel’s decision were supplying their own context based on what they knew of the background to the song.  That, of course, leaves out a whole demographic of younger individuals, say, those under 30, who would probably be unable to supply the missing context, not to mention those of any age who might not be familiar with the back story of the composition.

The reliance of the majority on everyone else’s “knowledge” of the fact that the composer’s intention was not homophobic does not leave me comfortable with the application of the contextual argument as the justification of the bare broadcast of the original version of the song without additional explanation.  In the absence of self-contained context or supplementary information at the time of broadcast, I would decide that the broadcast of the original, unedited version of “Money for Nothing” constituted, and would constitute in future, a breach of the Human Rights provisions of the CAB Code of Ethics and the CAB Equitable Portrayal Code.

 

The age and origin of the song and the date of its performance

The National Panel had the opportunity to review a range of submissions on the time/age issue.  Since the Panel has already concluded that the use of the challenged word was acceptable in the context of this song, its finding on the age of the performance would only be relevant if applied in the context of another decision on a similar point at some time in the future.  That, after all, is not without some importance.  Among the points made by six of those submitting comments were the following:

This is a classic Rock song that is very important in Rock history since it was the first MTV music video [in Europe]. We can’t go changing words of poetry, books, movies, etc. from the past to suit the political correctness of the day.  This would lose the authenticity of the time these works were written.

The song should be held accountable to the time of when it was originally released. Not today’s standards. If this song was released today, I would support the movement that is objecting to it. However, a song that was released over 25 years ago should not be held to standards of the day and age we live in today, no more than a vehicle for example does not have to comply to safety items that are mandatory today. 

The song’s age is especially relevant. If the song were indeed homophobic, or had the effect of promoting homophobia, then regardless of its age it would not be acceptable. 

It doesn’t matter how acceptable the term “faggot” was in 1985, we are living in 2011 and it is offensive now. We have standards, rules, and regulations for a reason.  Unfortunately it may have been deemed okay to use that word freely in 1985 but thankfully this is not the case today. Think of all the equity groups that have gone through their struggles since the dawn of time. How small and significant changes effect and improve our society to be more inclusive and to discriminate less. Our culture has changed for the better, and as you have pointed out even Mark Knopfler and the band Dire Straits do not use the word anymore. 

We no longer allow cigarette ads on TV. Should old ads be grandfathered in? I don't think so. Smoking used to be socially acceptable, but then we learned of the harm it does, and the rules were changed. 

Age makes no difference. It wasn’t acceptable then and it isn’t acceptable now.

The ad hoc National Panel’s view is that age alone will not “save” a challenged song but the Panel does acknowledge that it is one of the factors to consider.  That said, in the matter at hand, given its contextual conclusions (above), the Panel judges that the age of “Money for Nothing” is not a material issue.  Moreover, the Panel does believe that the fact that an offending word may have been acceptable in 1985 or 1995 does not mean that it would remain so in 2010, 2025 or 2050.  Nor, the Panel wishes to add, do awards earned by a song assist in determining its playability on the airwaves.  Such recognitions go to the reason for a broadcaster choosing to put a song in rotation; they are not of any assistance in assuring that such broadcasts meet the broadcasters’ own codified standards.

The Panel also considers it exceptionally important and relevant to note that the CBSC deals only with the broadcast of this or any other song.  Its conclusions relate only to the playing of the song on licensed Canadian airwaves.  Even a song that may breach codified standards can be played to one’s heart’s content in private or on the internet, without the least interference.  Any broadcast of musical or spoken content must be judged by the standards applicable on the date of the broadcast.  While grandfathering may protect old motor vehicles in terms of compliance with today’s safety standards, to use the example given by one of those submitting comments, those circumstances are not analogous.  Older vehicles are, by definition, a rapidly diminishing and almost insignificant part of the automobile population, with little effect on the public roads, particularly as most of the safety standards are for the protection of those persons in the vehicles in question, rather than those exposed to the vehicles.  Broadcast standards are applied to words, music and content broadcast today and affecting listeners (and viewers) today.  There is sufficient protection for broadcasters in the contextual considerations to allow for serious use of otherwise problematic content from today and yesteryear.  There is no issue of grandfathering either needed or applicable to older content outside of those contextual exceptions.

 

The length of time and frequency of the song’s playing on the airwaves

This question raised by the CRTC is not entirely dissimilar from, or unrelated to, that dealt with in the previous section, at least insofar as it relates to the length of time that “Money for Nothing” has been playing on Canadian airwaves.  The National Panel has nothing to add to what it has just said on that issue.  As to the question of airplay frequency, it is not surprising that the Panel has no way of making the assessment.  That said, the Adjudicators believe that it is reasonable to assume that the farther away one gets from the release date of any song, the greater the likelihood that the airplays of even an important classic will probably gradually decrease over time.  More important, though, is the question of which version of the song has been broadcast over the years.  Has it been the original version or one of the edited versions?  While the Panel has no more information that would permit it to draw a conclusion in this regard, the Panel doubts whether, for reasons of the length of the song or audience sensitivity, the apparent public conclusion that it has always been the original full-length Brothers in Arms version is correct.  And that may well be part of the explanation of the absence of complaints about the other f-word over the past 25 years.

In any case, the number of complaints received by the CBSC is never a material issue for the Council.  Its role is to determine whether a complaint is justified.  That is done by measuring the public concern against the codified standard, not by counting heads.  The CBSC is not a polling service.  Nor should it be.  It assesses the legitimacy of issues raised about broadcasts.  In so doing, it can only render proper public service by adjudicating matters, whether they result from a single voice, a hundred voices, or a thousand voices.  Right and wrong are not determinable by numbers.

 

The prominence and use of the contested word in the song

The National Panel does not find that the word “faggot” was used with any frequency or prominence in the song.  It was there, to be sure, but only used three times in a four-line 29-word stanza, in an eight-plus minute song.  The problem found initially (by the Atlantic Panel) was with the use of the word at all, not with an over-usage.  Having dealt with both the word and the context earlier in this decision, the ad hoc National Panel has nothing to add to its conclusion in the first sentence of this section.

 

The conclusion

In the end, the ad hoc National Panel considers that the Atlantic Regional Panel was correct in its view of the inappropriateness of the word “faggot” for broadcast on Canadian airwaves.  Whether or not the challenged word was at one time less unacceptable, perhaps as recently as 25 years ago, it no longer is and it must be judged by the standards applicable on the date of its broadcast.  That conclusion is also consistent with the position of almost all of those who reacted to the Atlantic Regional Panel’s position or who sent submissions pursuant to the CBSC’s online solicitation of these.  The National Panel hastens to add that, as discussed two paragraphs before, the CBSC and its Atlantic Regional Panel were correct in dealing with “Money for Nothing” on the basis of a single complaint.

On the basis of newly-submitted information that could originally have been supplied to the Atlantic Panel, but was not, the National Panel does part company with that Panel’s conclusion regarding the context of the otherwise inappropriate word.  It does conclude that, based to a considerable extent on the story told in the song, which was strongly supported by information found in interviews given by the composer soon after the time of its release, the usage of the other f-word was contextually justified in “Money for Nothing”.  The word was satirically and supportively used.  The National Panel wishes to make perfectly clear to those persons who have commended the CBSC for its “brave” position regarding the disapproval of the hateful and painful term that it is not abandoning that position or the CBSC’s sensitivity to their concern.  It is only saying that there may be circumstances in which even words designating unacceptably negative portrayal may be acceptable because of their contextual usage.  The ad hoc National Panel finds this one such occasion.

Finally, the Panel wishes to reaffirm the existence of numerous versions of “Money for Nothing”, created and performed by Dire Straits themselves and Mark Knopfler on a solo basis, used by them or him in most of the live concerts and in their albums, as well as on iTunes.  They are available for broadcast and, to the extent that broadcasters wish to respect that sensitivity of members of their audience, they have the option to make that airplay choice without any editing of the song on their part.  While, for the reasons given in this decision, the ad hoc National Panel concludes that the original version does not breach the private broadcasters’ codified standards, it would encourage broadcasters to make the airplay choice appropriate to their market.

 

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