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Money For Nothing: Cancon’s Not Free

January 17th, 2011
Comments Off on Money For Nothing: Cancon’s Not Free

Seeing as I post a semi-weekly item called Freedom of Music, it seems appropriate that I have something to say about Dire Straits, Money for Nothing being given illiberal treatment. First, there is some misconceptions to clear up.

dire3Mark Knopfler did not write Money for Nothing as an anti-anti-gay song. He was not commenting generally, or specifically on anti-gay sentiment. Unlike Mark Twain using the word, well THE WORD, in Huckleberry Finn, there is no evidence that he was making specific social commentary on homophobia.

Oh, I know: how do I know what Mark Knopfler was thinking when he wrote Money for Nothing? Well, I don’t. And neither do all the boring blow-hards trying to justify their anger at this decision by citing artistic merit and “context.” Context be dammed. It is bad when apparatchiks start telling you what you can and cannot hear on radio. Even if Money for Nothing was blatantly homophobic, it would be wrong for some government appointee to tell you you can’t hear it, full stop.

Which brings us to point two: the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) is not a government agency. However, it was set up under the guidance of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which is definitely a government agency. Lose you CRTC license, and you are out of business: lose your good standing with CBSC, and you lose your CRTC license. Radio stations that play the unedited version of Money for Nothing stand to lose their license. It may not be a government agency that censored the radio stations, but it has the full force of government behind it, so it may as well be: would, in fact, be better if it were, then you could phone you MP and demand correction.

imagesSome people have speculated that the ruling could affect more than just this one song. What about the Pogues Christmas song, Fairytale of New York? for example. Couldn’t they now ban that? Not could, did. In an interview with Charles Adler last week, Ron Cohen head of the CBSC said, “we didn’t ban the song, we banned the word.” With that a whole slew of songs are off the radio, including the song voted number #1 Christmas song by the stodgy old BBC listeners. Guns ‘N’ Roses song One in a Million is out too. Gone. Never to be played in it’s complete version on the radio.

The offence, however, some say, only applies to the word faggot. Fag is in, so Charlie Daniels Uneasy Rider is good to go:

…he’s a friend of them long haired, hippy-type, pinko fags! I betchya he’s even got a commie flag. Tacked up on the wall inside of his garage…

Here’s a game. You run a radio station, and somebody wants to play Uneasy Rider. “It doesn’t say faggot,” argues the DJ, “just fag.” Do you let him play it? Do you take the chance that your going to be hauled before the CBSC? Or do you take the easy route and say, play something else. I know what I’d do, and it wouldn’t have anything to do with one of the rock worlds funniest songs playing on my radio station. Ban one word, and it turns into a de-facto ban of how many others? In one fell ruling you can wipe dozens of songs off the radio.

And all of that doesn’t matter one whit. This is an issue of freedom, and in Canada we are less free today than we were at this time last week. Free countries don’t protect people by banning speech and songs: free countries protect people from from having their speech, or songs, banned.

That is what is wrong with this decision. It has nothing to do with the fact the song has been played thousands of times over twenty five years, no harm done. It doesn’t matter whether it’s pro or anti-gay song. When you argue those points, you concede that limits are appropriate. And once you have conceded that, then the argument is a drawing of the lines. Don’t want your favourite song banned from the airwaves, then don’t agree to lines, any lines being drawn. That is the way free countries act.


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