Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing: Canadian Ban Madness

Mark Knopfler and Elton John

Most people will have heard Dire Straits’ song Money For Nothing many times. Some people hate it, but most will enjoy humming or singing along. For Canadians, their singing habits will need to change as the song has been banned from being played on radio because the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has decided the lyrics are an issue. These lyrics in particular:

The little faggot with the earring and the make-up
Yeah, buddy, that’s his own hair
That little faggot’s got his own jet airplane
That little faggot, he’s a millionaire

The complaint (the first one known since the song’s 1984 release) was lodged by a CHOZ-FM listener:

A song was aired, “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits, and included the word “faggot” a total of three times. I am aware of other versions of the song, in which the word was replaced with another, and yet OZ FM chose to play and not censor this particular version that I am complaining about.

I find this extremely offensive as a member of the LGBT community and feel that there is absolutely no valid reason for such discriminatory marks to be played on-air.

The response from the station was pretty detailed and included an outright apology whilst maintaining the right to play the song:

We understand the concerns you have raised regarding this particular selection and do apologize for any undue stress caused to you as a listener by the lyrical content of this selection, but based on the above reasoning, we have operated with the understanding that in this specific case, no editing of the material is warranted.

The listener, unhappy with the radio station’s response, wrote to the CBSC (you can read it all here):

In the letter, [OZ FM’s Senior Vice President] lists a number of reasons in an attempt to justify his stations airing the uncensored version of the song. One of the reasons given was the awards and acclaim that the original version of the song has received. These include 1986 Grammy for Record of the Year and 1986 American Music Award for Record of the Year. This is comparable to the achievements of Kanye West’s 2005 song “Gold Digger” which received 9 Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year, and is certified triple platinum. This song contains another discriminatory slur, not directed towards sexual orientation, but towards race. When played on OZ FM, this slur is censored despite the song’s achievements. I fail to see a difference between the two situations.

The CBSC then undertook a formal process and decided the song can’t be played on air in its unedited form. There’s some fascinating reading in the decision on the origins and usage of the words fag and faggot, then a final adjudication:

Still, the Panel concludes that, like other racially driven words in the English language, “faggot” is one that, even if entirely or marginally acceptable in earlier days, is no longer so. The Panel finds that it has fallen into the category of unacceptable designations on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability. In addition to the terms already so categorized by previous CBSC Panels, there are undoubtedly other racial epithets (not yet the subject of CBSC Panel decisions) that would likely fall into the category of words that are inherently problematic. In any event, the Atlantic Regional Panel concludes that the use of the word “faggot” in the song “Money for Nothing” was unacceptable for broadcast and that, by broadcasting an unedited version of the song, CHOZ-FM breached Clause 2 of the CAB Code of Ethics, and Clauses 2, 7 and 9 of the Equitable Portrayal Code. The Panel notes parenthetically that the song would not otherwise fall afoul of any of the foregoing broadcast standards if suitably edited.

And that is that. I can understand the concern over the use of the word in a song produced in 2011. But in a song coming up to thirty years old that contains a lyric I believe Mark Knopfler at least partially overheard and that Elton John is happy to sing? There’s been a recent announcement of the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without the word nigger. Far be it for me to argue that Dire Straits were the Mark Twain of the rock world (although they were at least a Bronte sister in calibre to me), but the issue is similar: where do you draw the line?

I’d love your thoughts on this. Not just on whether you think the decision is right or wrong, but how do you see this working in the future? Is it possible to develop standards that protect older works whilst ensuring offence is minimised?

[via Digital Journal]


  1. Séan Briand says

    “while offence is minimized” what in h… are you talking about?
    Did this person know there was an off buton on the radio,did this person have any shred of personal responsibility or did the just decide to get off by controlling all the listeners in the rest of CANADA.

    What a power trip

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