COLUMN: Broadcast ban tramples our rights
There aren’t too many things that disturb me more than censorship – especially when it’s triggered by an anonymous complaint.
Last month the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council banned Dire Straits’ song Money for Nothing from being broadcast in the form containing its original lyrics which include the word “faggot” twice in one stanza.
Yes, I know it’s old news, but it’s bugged me all month.
The song, written by Mark Knopfler, came out in 1985 and, truthfully, the lyrics were considered contentious enough back then that sanitized versions of the song were edited for play in stores, restaurants, TV and radio.
In most modern usage the word “faggot” is applied as an insult, representing bigotry and ignorance on the part of its user, so I find it ironic that it has been banned in this instance.
Knopfler jotted down the lyrics one day in a New York appliance store he was in and found himself standing next to a disgruntled delivery man, whose life apparently sucked, and was spouting insults about rock musicians in an MTV video that was playing on a wall of TVs.
Knopfler used the exact words spoken by the gentleman, which so eloquently demonstrated his apparent prejudices and ignorance – or at least, his lack of manners and good breeding – that remain an all too common trait among people everywhere. And anyway, the slur in this case was made against rock musicians, not gays.
I don’t care much for the word either, but what I find really disturbing is the song was banned – according to one Canadian Broadcast Standards Council representative – because of a single, anonymous complaint that triggered an investigative process by the council.
One complaint – in 25 years – that allegedly came from an anonymous individual in Newfoundland, was all it took to start the process to have a song – or more specifically, a word – banned from public broadcast across Canada. One anonymous person has decided for a nation of more than 34 million people what is acceptable content.
If this person stood up and said, “This is who I am, this is what I believe is wrong and this is why I believe it,” I might not agree with him, but I’ll stand behind his courage and right to state what he believes and his right to try and bring about change. That, I believe, is one of the privileges and responsibilities of living in a free society.
But when an anonymous individual’s claim tramples the rights of others because there is no opportunity for debate or recourse, then there’s a problem. In this case, one organization has decided what is ‘right’ for a nation, based on that organization’s claim a complaint was made by one individual protected from being identified – leaving the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council and the complainant effectively unaccountable to anyone.
This is a really frightening scenario. We have no evidence this complainant actually exists and other similar ‘complaints’ or ‘tips’ from anonymous individuals could be used by those in positions of authority to circumvent fundamental freedoms Canadians currently take for granted.
Erasing words doesn’t wipe out their meanings or intent. Prejudice and maliciousness will just lurk behind new words people will invent to sling hurt and insults at one another. We can ban or eradicate words – even entire literary works – some people find offensive, but all we’ll achieve is a temporary clouding of our ability to clearly reflect upon, through feeling the impact of those words, where we’ve come from and where we’re going.