Unedited Version of Song Does Not Breach Codes, Says Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, March 7, 2001 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released its decision relating to the broadcast of an unedited version of the song “The Bad Touch” performed by the group Bloodhound Gang on CKMM-FM (Winnipeg). The song, which was broadcast on April 21 and 30, 2000 around 3:00 p.m. and on April 26 around 9 p.m., prompted a complaint from a listener who asked “[i]f the material is too mature for the under 18 group, than why is this song being played when they can hear it?”

While the Ontario Regional Panel had recently ruled that the broadcast of the song “The Bad Touch” was not in breach of the Codes, the complaint in that case differed in two material respects: first, the song which was broadcast by CIGL-FM (Belleville) was the edited version of the song; second, the time of day at which CIGL-FM played the song was not known to the Ontario Panel.

Having listened to the unedited version of the song, the Prairie Regional Panel agreed that “the song is not suitable for young children”, but was unable to find the lyrics in breach of any Code provision. In the Panel’s view,

[T]he Panel considers it important to underscore the fact that there is a spectrum of content which ranges, in terms of the Codes, from the acceptable to the unacceptable and that there is, in the centre of that spectrum, a range of content which, although perhaps distasteful or inappropriate, must be judged to be sufficiently on the edge not to be found in breach of any Code provision. With respect to that middle range, the principle of freedom of expression must be allowed full vent. With respect to that middle range, the exercise of parental or similar authority must be exercised in lieu of a finding of Code breach. Where, in other words, the problem is not, in the view of the Panel, so egregious as to call for a negative finding, the airing of the material must be permitted to continue.

The Panel hastened to note, however, that radio stations ought to remain sensitive to the concerns of its listening audience when edited versions of songs are available to them.

In this case, the Prairie Regional Panel concludes that the material does not pass from the inappropriate to the unacceptable. It is suggestive but not graphically explicit. It does not, in the view of the Panel, so cross the line which it is duty-bound to draw that it merits the curtailment of the broadcaster’s freedom of expression. This does not mean that, in the case of such song lyrics, as broadcasters have so often done in the past, the broadcaster with the choice of a softened version might not wish to be more responsive to concerns expressed by its audience. This could be achieved by the playing of the edited version, something which the Ontario Panel commended CIGL-FM for doing for its Belleville audience, or by choosing times of day for the airplay of such material which might render such songs less accessible to a vulnerable audience.

Canada’s private broadcasters have created industry standards in the form of Codes dealing with gender portrayal, violence and ethical issues such as human rights by which they expect the members of their profession will abide. They have also established the CBSC, the self-regulatory body responsible for the administration of those professional Codes, as well as the Radio and Television News Directors Code dealing with journalistic practices. More than 460 Canadian radio and television stations and specialty services are members of the Council.

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All CBSC Codes, decisions, Annual Reports, relevant documents, members, links to members’ and other web sites, and useful information relating to the Council are available at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, contact Ron Cohen, the National Chair, at (###) ###-####.