It’s too cold outside to ban songs you simply don’t like

The removal from air play of the newly controversial 1940s hit Baby, It’s Cold Outside represents a noteworthy shift in the way media companies defend artistic freedom in the eight years since the Dire Straits song Money for Nothing was banned in Canada.

The Dire Straits tune, a monster 1985 hit, was forbidden from broadcast in January 2011 when the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council upheld the complaint of one woman in Newfoundland who took offence to lyrics containing a derogatory reference to gay men.

Critics of the council mocked it for its inability to contemplate satire.

Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher had this to say on his website:

“I reckon Canada could ban about 75 per cent of all records ever made. … A part of me understands the decision (but) you can and should be allowed to write a song or poem and use language that is or has been in use by real people in everyday life … MFN does not ‘celebrate’ a slur.

“In it, Mark (Knopfler) uses real everyday U.S. street language to describe how a numbskull worker in a hardware department … feels about a video being shown. The fact that the (council) can make a ruling such as this, completely missing the context in which it’s used, says rather a lot about the society in which we live.”

At least two radio stations — in Edmonton and Halifax — went to the barricades to defend their and Dire Straits’ artistic freedom. Sensing the public outcry against what many viewed as a neo-puritanical frenzy, they not only refused to comply with the council’s ruling, they rebelled openly by playing the unedited version of the song repeatedly for one-hour protest sessions.

Calm and the nation’s reputation for reasonableness were eventually restored when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) had the council take another look at and eventually revise its decision.

Since then, many — if not all — stations have adopted an updated version of the Dire Straits tune that’s less likely to prompt complaints.

It’s difficult not to notice how corporate behaviour has evolved in the years since.

In the Money For Nothing controversy, the complainant initially asked that CHOZ-FM in St. John’s stop playing the song.

I don’t recall what their defence was but, way back then, the response was generally: “If you don’t like it, change the channel” (although no doubt in more elegant terms).

Unable to get satisfaction, the complainant took the matter up with the council and the story unfolded from there.

In the matter of Baby, It’s Cold Outside — considered until now to be a Christmas holiday classic — major media offered little resistance in the defence of artistic freedom.

It’s unclear to me who was first to complain or first to capitulate. But in rapid succession, CBC, Rogers, Bell Media and Corus — the nation’s largest broadcasters — all announced they were taking the 74-year-old tune off their approved playlists.

There has been some public debate since, largely (and wisely) restricted to female commentators discussing whether the song glorifies sexual harassment and “rape culture.”

But at the end of the day, it appears that private broadcasters moved very quickly to avoid controversy and therefore maintain shareholder value. CBC’s motives as articulated were similar and appeared to take a better-safe-than-sorry line.

This, it appears, is our new reality. I take no position on the appropriateness of Baby, It’s Cold Outside — a song I generally found irritating and avoided on its own terms. But I do subscribe to the view that social and cultural change is most effective when it employs persuasion as opposed to heavy-handed tools such as censorship. There be many, many dragons down that path.

Fortunately, while the same media that define themselves as vital defenders of democracy are showing a new-found preference for flight instead of fight in that battle, their listeners have not.

On Tuesday, CBC Music reversed it decision, recommending that those who disapprove of the song just change the channel if they don’t like it.

Order has been restored.

Peter Menzies is a former vice-chair of the CRTC.

Just Posted

Red Deer Dream Centre opponents won’t appeal its approval

Red Deer’s subdivision and development appeal board approves project

Decision affirms power of courts to review the discipline of judges

OTTAWA — The authority of the Federal Court to review disciplinary measures… Continue reading

Quebec religious symbols law causes harm but shouldn’t be suspended: Appeal Court

MONTREAL — The Quebec Court of Appeal has rejected a request to… Continue reading

Alberta’s high court won’t change life sentence of man who killed seniors

EDMONTON — The Alberta Court of Appeal has dismissed a sentence appeal… Continue reading

Rocky Mountain House pursuing amalgamation talks with neighbouring municipalities

Rocky Mountain House council made motion to start amalgamation talks in special council meeting

Drug bust: Red Deer RCMP seize drugs, cash, vehicles

Criminals are getting creative. Red Deer RCMP have seized cash and vehicles… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Friday The Annual Old-Fashioned Country Christmas is being held Dec. 13 at… Continue reading

Scott Milanovich returns to CFL, named head coach of Edmonton Eskimos

EDMONTON — Scott Milanovich is returning to the CFL with the task… Continue reading

Decision affirms power of courts to review the discipline of judges

OTTAWA — The authority of the Federal Court to review disciplinary measures… Continue reading

Quebec religious symbols law causes harm but shouldn’t be suspended: Appeal Court

MONTREAL — The Quebec Court of Appeal has rejected a request to… Continue reading

Alberta’s high court won’t change life sentence of man who killed seniors

EDMONTON — The Alberta Court of Appeal has dismissed a sentence appeal… Continue reading

Survey results suggest Ponoka residents are happy to live in the town

Survey interviewed 400 randomly selected residents

Extension of Molly Bannister Drive is unwanted

Re: “Survey seeks public input on contentious plan,” Dec. 11. Congratulations to… Continue reading

Opinion by Joe Ceci: Jason Kenney is raising your taxes and hoping you won’t know it’s him

Re: “Rural Alberta RCMP detachments getting 500 new positions,” Dec. 5. Jason… Continue reading

Most Read