Canada: Old Dire Straits hit song deemed unacceptable for broadcast
‘Money for Nothing’, a song by the rock band Dire Straits, was pronounced unfit for Canadian ears after a lone woman in Newfoundland complained about the word faggot in the lyrics.
25 years after the song ‘Money for Nothing’ first took off on the charts, one unnamed person who self-identifies as “a member of the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered) community” hears the song on local radio station OZ FM in St. John’s, finds the use of the faggot word “extremely offensive” and complains to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) about it.
The CBSC is a self-regulating council for private broadcasters which began as a gleam in the eye of another self-regulating group, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB), a full year after the release of the Dire Straits album, Brothers in Arms, on which the offending song first appeared.
The matter is eventually assigned to a panel chaired by Gerry Phelan, and this panel examined the complaint through the prism of the CAB’s Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code, with particular emphasis on clauses dealing with Human Rights, Degrading Material and Language and Terminology. (All capital letters are the panel’s.)
Meanings of the word In two sections – one entitled, “Whither the Evolution of Language?”, the other “The Use of the Word ‘Faggot’ ” – the six members tediously reviewed other CBSC decisions on the use of the word “fag”, noted its various benign meanings (cheap cigarettes, a junior who performs duties for a senior in English public schools, and a bundle of twigs or sticks), and even acknowledged that in the case of Money for Nothing, “the word ‘faggot’, although lightly sarcastic in its application in the song, was not used in a ‘sneering, derisive, nasty tone’” as was the case in an earlier decision.
The panel found the word, like others, “is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so.” The song, unless edited, was deemed unacceptable for broadcast and OZ-FM is required to announce the decision twice, once during peak listening hours and once during the same time slot when the complainant was so offended. Long term effects on freedom of expression Canadian singer-songwriter Jonathan Ferguson wrote a letter to Freemuse to explain that the song is about a real life event that Mark Knopfler witnessed, whereby a delivery man was saying that musicians don’t work hard at all and that they get “money for nothing and chicks for free.”
“The line in dispute contains a single word used by ignorant people — like the delivery man in the song who Mark Knopfler is speaking through to prove his point — which was directed at Elton John, a friend of Knopfler’s. As a Canadian musician I’m more than a bit bothered by this news story. Not necessarily the immediate effects, but the potential long term effects on freedom of expression over Canadian airwaves,” wrote the Canadian singer-songwriter.
“Apparently the rule here is that if one single person complains, it goes to review, and if the panel agrees, the artist has to censor the song or it won’t play.
You’ll be happy to know though that several cities in Canada — a country where we value things like free speech despite our willingness to make sure people aren’t offended — have held marathons of the song in protest, without any action from the government.
If anything, people need to hear this message the way it was intended, much like they should hear Randy Newman’s ‘Rednecks’, or read anything by Mark Twain. The harsh language is used to drive the point home, not to offend.
I think that if people were less afraid to take the filter off, then racism and bigotry and homophobia could lose all of their power. I believe that it is the intent of the speaker, and not the words he uses, which promote hatred.
As Shakespeare said, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. I’m sure that works the opposite way as well,” wrote Jonathan Ferguson.