There is something odd about the BBC’s decision-making over Fairytale of New York

There is no need for the corporation to have a specific policy for one song when well-established guidelines are already in place.

Why does the BBC have an official policy on whether to play the original version of the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York” or the 1992 version by the same artists, in which a homophobic slur is replaced with the words “you’re cheap and you’re haggard”?

The broadcaster has confirmed that Radio 1 will use the 1992 version (recorded by MacColl for Top of the Pops, which aired before the watershed), while Radio 2 will use the original 1987 version and on BBC 6Music, individual disc jockeys will decide which to play on a case-by-case basis.

It is bluntly unclear to me why this is the case. In the UK there is a well-established practice for adjudicating what is and isn’t “family-friendly” language: indeed, that is precisely why the 1992 recording exists. Ofcom, the regulator, receives complaints about language used on-air and investigates by conducting qualitative and quantitative research among representative samples of the population. Where the language concerns a particular group of people, a similar exercise also takes place – so the offensiveness of a series of terms about various Christian denominations would not be measured by researching only the concerns of the public as a whole, who are largely mystified by such terms, but also the concerns of those Christian groups.

Thanks to this process, we have a good idea of the majority position of the British people on the issue, and we are fortunate that there is a fairly high degree of consensus. Most people value the 9pm watershed – the cut-off time on television, before which offensive language, violent images and other scenes that may disturb or upset children or those who wish to avoid such material, cannot be shown – and find the use of offensive language on radio, a more intimate medium, more, not less offensive than on television. As a result, radio presenters and producers are urged to consider whether children may be listening, when making decisions such as selecting music.

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This is what gives rise to the so-called “radio edit”: versions of songs in which words are either muted or replaced. For example, if you listen to Avril Lavigne’s “Happy Ending” on the radio, the word “shit” is edited out.

One of the other valuable tasks that Ofcom does is to produce a list of swear words, profanities and insults, and rank how audiences feel about them, from “milder words” to the “strongest words”. The slur in “Fairytale of New York” is consistently placed among “the strongest words”  – alongside the C-word, the four-lettered F-word, the M-word (someone who has intimate physical relations with their mother) and the N-word.

Now, of course, you may be more comfortable with some of those words than others. Frankly there are some words on the “strongest words” list that I am wholly relaxed with: I have to admit the M-word always makes me giggle rather than wince. But what works …read more

Source:: New Statesman

      

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