‘Money for Nothing’ slur inappropriate, but context must be considered: council

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Broadcast body revises ruling about St. John’s listener’s complaint

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has tempered a ruling that deemed the Dire Straits hit

TORONTO — A Canadian broadcast watchdog says its decision to deem a 1985 Dire Straits smash unfit for radio just ain’t workin’.

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has tempered a ruling on “Money For Nothing,” which includes the word “faggot,” saying that while the homophobic slur is inappropriate, it must be taken in context and that individual radio stations can decide if they should play an edited version of the song.

“The (council) 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,” states the decision, released Wednesday.

“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.”


Complaint laid

On Jan. 12, the council responded to a listener in St. John’s who was offended by the song’s lyrics. The regional Atlantic panel of the council subsequently ruled the song contravened the human rights clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code.

When a public backlash ensued, the CRTC asked the council to review its decision.

So, what changed since the council made its original decision?

The song’s writer, Mark Knopfler, has long maintained that he was writing from the perspective of a “bonehead” whom he observed in a hardware store watching MTV, reacting with disgust to the fledgling network’s flamboyant rock stars.

The council simply hadn’t taken such context into account when making its original decision, said the organization’s national chairman, Ron Cohen. But with that information in hand, the majority of the council’s panel felt the word was intended satirically and not in a hateful manner.

“(The context) wasn’t as evident without the explanations that have been provided,” Cohen said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We don’t go out and research — the CBSC just doesn’t do that. We don’t have the resources. We don’t have the time.

“This background information was drawn out of the public and provided to us and (we said), ‘A-ha! Had the Atlantic panel had this information in the first place, it may well have come to a different conclusion.’”


Impassioned response

The council’s decision earlier this year elicited impassioned response from all over the country, nabbed international headlines and even prompted erstwhile members of the band — which broke up in 1995 — to weigh in online.

Meanwhile, a handful of Canadian radio stations defied the ruling by putting the original version of the tune on repeat (Cohen considers such actions “fairly constructive,” since they often included discussion of the issue and the song’s context).

The song was a massive hit upon its release in 1985, winning a Grammy and reaching No. 1 on the charts in Canada and the U.S., and spawned a famous music video that featured crude computer animation and became a signature of the young music channel, MTV.


Examining intent

Critics of the council argued Wednesday that the initial decision never should have been reached without examining the intent behind the lyrics.

“A complaint without context is kind of a waste of time,” said Queen’s University adjunct music professor Robb MacKay in a telephone interview Wednesday.

“I don’t think you can consider any art without the context.”


Ubiquitous video

MacKay points out that the song’s once-ubiquitous video made clear the lyrics were meant to be a conversation between labourers, and that it was equally clear the band didn’t hold the opinions they were expressing in high regard.

“It’s a nice piece of rock ’n’ roll, but it’s also a very interesting critique on all the stuff that was happening in the 1980s, vis-a-vis gender comportment in music videos. Race was still quite problematic in videos at that point, so yeah, it’s a pretty contentious time,” he said.

“It’s important that we keep discussing the songs. I think it’s pretty ludicrous the discussion has to be based in wrongheaded rulings.”


Common controversy

But the controversy over the song’s contents isn’t new. Cohen says the council pored over archival footage of the band’s live performances, and he notes that even in the ’80s, the band often omitted the offensive word or reduced the number of times it was uttered in the song (“We have watched more YouTube on this than you can imagine,” he says).

So, the council — an independent watchdog organization with more than 700 member radio and TV stations — is recommending that individual stations consider the sensitivities of their listeners in deciding whether to play the original song or an edited version.

“They’re free to make that choice,” said Cohen, who noted that the council received feedback from people who supported their original decision, as well as people who didn’t.

“There are people who are really troubled by the usage of the word. … So even if it’s kind of OK (in the context), there are connotations to it which are problematic.”

Organizations: Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, Canadian Association of Broadcasters, CRTC

Geographic location: TORONTO, Canada, U.S. Queen

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Recent comments

  • Lisa
    September 01, 2011 - 15:38

    1) This song is so old already. If we had to go back and revise every old song that barely gets airplay anymore, well, we could probably spend that time more wisely curing cancer or saving the environment. 2) Perhaps we should go and revise every current song which make blatant objectifications of women, gang life, etc. etc. etc. 3) Last time I looked, we in Canada still had the right to free speech. While I support this individual's right to bring the question of the offensive term in this song, my right to listen to and purchase this music if I choose to do so must also be upheld, should it not?

  • Sheldon
    September 01, 2011 - 14:22

    IT IS NOT THE CRITIC THAT COUNTS! Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually IN the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again yet never ceases. Because there is not effort without error; but who does actually strive to the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with the cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. In short, why do we cater to those who seek not to create, but to destroy? Those who have done nothing with their lives and wish only to remove others freedoms that they themselves take for granted, who have not enough motivation or foresight to make something of themselves, so that in their misery they feel compelled to bring down everyone else around them. These are the people that our government and our society adhere to, not the bright and successful individuals that made this country great and work daily at keeping it so. Tell them to man up, grow a spine and work at improving life rather then make attempts at destroying what others have worked so hard to achieve.

  • Harlee
    September 01, 2011 - 13:10

    Why is it ok for some one to tell me what I can or can not listen to. If you don't like the song, station you're listening to or show your watching there is this funny little thing called an "off switch". I have my own mind and set of morals to know what I think is fine for me. At almost 50 I think I'm adult enough to make my own listening choices with out some one watching over my shoulder.

  • taxpayertwo
    September 01, 2011 - 12:15

    Well said Mark, I am really sick of folks spouting off about me, me, me. It would be a much better world if everyone started thinking more in terms of we instead of me.

  • jim chelich
    September 01, 2011 - 10:52

    This "council" is just another example of political correctness running amuck in Canada as they argue over which end of the dog poop is cleanest to pick up with their fingers! By banning the song in the first place, they have lost all credibility.

  • richard singleton
    September 01, 2011 - 10:43

    Here we go again. The song has been out for over twenty-five years and now, ONE complaint in a country of over 30,000,000 and all hell breaks loose! Idiotic!

  • mark
    September 01, 2011 - 10:11

    would all the over sensitive people in this world please grow up!

  • Richard Aucoin
    September 01, 2011 - 09:06

    On the subject of the "Money For Nothing "ban.. Terms and slang's are so diverse through out the world, that a word here in North America can mean something completely different in another part of the world. To expect artists through out the world to search out words they have chosen for their songs so they don't "diss some poor sobbing poor me "group some where is ridiculous.

  • Pierre Bernard
    September 01, 2011 - 08:30

    another case of revisionist history. another case of making a tempest in a water glass. what's next? going back to all the books and all the songs ever written, including dcstionaries and encyclopedia and remove any word that COULD be deemed offensive. - get real. and stop wasting my taxpayer's money. Invest in healthcare, education and infrastructure instead of paying people to make mountains out of molehills. what about the freedom of expression?