United Kingdom: Protest song not played ahead of election

Ahead of a snap election in the United Kingdom on 8 June 2017, politically-active band Captain Ska released their ‘Liar, Liar’ protest song on May 26, which catapulted into British charts despite the BBC refusing to play the song on the radio due to impartiality rules during elections.

In less than a week, the song was already at number four on the charts, the top song downloaded on Amazon for the UK and was number two in Apple’s iTunes UK chart, Reuters reported on 2 June 2017.

On 3 June, the band tweeted an image of BBC Radio 1’s chart list, which features charted songs accompanied by a button to play a 30-second snippet of the song; the image showed that the play button for ‘Liar, Liar’ was greyed out, thus not allowing users to hear the song.

“We do not ban songs or artists, however our editorial guidelines require us to remain impartial and the UK is currently in an election period so we will not play the song,” BBC Radio 1 said in a statement.


Regulation rules
The BBC is regulated by Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator covering TV and radio, among other media and communications services. The body’s impartiality rules are set in Section 5 and its rules on election coverage are set in Section 6, which refers back to Section 5.

“During an election campaign, all broadcasting is subject to special impartiality requirements under section six of the OFCOM broadcasting code. The lyrics of this song meant that we couldn’t play it ahead of the election. Beyond that, we don’t comment on playlist decisions,” Vodafone Big Top 40 told the BBC in a statement on the Victoria Derbyshire show.


Protesting the government and BBC
The song, which was originally written in 2010 as the band’s response to the formation of a coalition government at the time, was reworked in May 2017 as a protest song criticising the conservative party, and more specifically, Prime Minister Theresa May. The song contains clips of speeches and interviews by May and features lyrics that accuse her of being a liar.

May told the BBC that she’s heard “bits” of the song and was “not very happy about it”.

On 2 June 2017, The People’s Assembly Against Austerity held a protest at BBC headquarters. They explained in their Facebook event: “We’ll be protesting and partying to the tune outside the BBC HQ as the Chart Show is aired to demand the track is played. If they wont [sic] play it on the airways we’ll blast the song to the public ourselves!”

The band said all proceeds from the song between 26 May and 8 June 2017 would be donated to food banks around the country and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity.


Excerpts from Ofcom’s sections on impartiality and elections:

(Rule 5.4 applies to television and radio services (except restricted services) and to BBC ODPS.

5.4    Programmes in the services (listed above) must exclude all expressions of the views and opinions of the person providing the service on matters of political and industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy (unless that person is speaking in a legislative forum or in a court of law). Views and opinions relating to the provision of programme services are also excluded from this requirement.

6.1    The rules in Section Five, in particular the rules relating to matters of major political or industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy, apply to the coverage of elections and referendums.


Photo: Video screen shot of ‘Liar, Liar’ video from YouTube


Sources

» The Independent – 7 June 2017
Theresa May responds to ‘Liar Liar’ song by Captain Ska

» The Independent – 3 June 2017
‘Liar Liar GE2017’ Theresa May protest song ‘greyed out’ by BBC, sparking angry reaction from Captain Ska

» Twitter – 3 June 2017
Captain SKA tweet

» Facebook – 2 June 2017
Play Liar Liar – Protest/Party at BBC Chart Show event

BBC Victoria Derbyshire show video on The People’s Assembly Against Austerity page

» Reuters – 2 June 2017
Protest after BBC says won’t play ‘liar liar’ song ahead of UK vote

» The Guardian – 31 May 2017
‘She’s a liar, liar’: anti-Theresa May song heads to top of charts

» Ofcom – 3 April 2017
Section five: Due impartiality and due accuracy

Section six: Elections and referendums