BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Healing and C93 FM (Christchurch) - 1997-088

Members
  • S R Maling (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • R J Healing
Number
1997-088
Broadcaster
C93 FM (Christchurch)
Channel/Station
C93 FM


Summary

A song played at various times and dates on C93 FM contained the "f" word.


Mr Healing of Christchurch wrote to the station in April complaining about the song,

but received no response. He then referred the complaint to the Broadcasting

Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

When it responded to the Authority, C93 FM identified the song as "Creep" by the

British band Radiohead. It explained that its target audience was males aged 18-39 and

that it invested a substantial sum of money into ensuring that it met the needs of that

audience. At recent audio tests with an audience from its target market, the song

"Creep" had ranked 18th most popular, out of 403 songs. In C93 FM's view, this

confirmed that the song was very important to that group. With respect to the

questionable language in the song, the station argued that words which were

previously unacceptable had now become everyday language, especially among

younger males. It maintained however that it applied a conservative approach to

striking the critical balance between relating to its audience and avoiding offence.

C93 FM apologised for its failure to respond to the original complaint.

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the song complained

about and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). On this

occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

A song titled "Creep", sung by the group Radiohead, was played at various times in

April 1997 on the Christchurch radio station, C93 FM. A chorus, sung three times,

included words which were a variation on:

I wish I was special, so fucking special. But I'm a creep...


and


So fucking special, I wish I was special. But I'm a creep...


Mr Healing of Christchurch complained to the station that the gratuitous use of the

"f" word was offensive. When he received no response in the statutory time period,

he referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of

the Broadcasting Act 1989.

C93 FM responded to the Authority's request for comment on the complaint, and

apologised for its failure to respond to Mr Healing. The station explained that it

targeted a male audience aged 18-39 and that its market research revealed that the band

Radiohead and the particular song "Creep" were very popular with that group. It

noted that in recent years the trend had been to leave objectionable words in songs

rather than to delete them, as had been the previous practice, and that among its target

market of young men some words which had previously been unacceptable had

become everyday language.

Nevertheless, it continued, it still applied a conservative approach when striking the

critical balance between relating to its audience and avoiding offence. The station

noted that it received a large number of songs containing questionable language but that

it only considered playing them if they were regarded as vital to its target market. C93

FM considered that with the advent of a new direct competitor, it would be

commercial suicide to impose any restrictions on the music it played, given that it had

a strong self-imposed monitor of content.

Mr Healing was not persuaded that because the "f" word was widely used, it can be

broadcast in songs. He considered the argument ludicrous, and maintained that when it

was used on the airwaves, it was offensive, especially as it came with no warning.

Turning to the song itself, which he said he "quite liked", Mr Healing noted that he

had recently heard an alternative rendition, which did not contain offensive words. He

wondered why the station did not use that version.

To C93 FM's argument that it was "commercial suicide" to impose restrictions on its

playlist, Mr Healing responded that having no restrictions would encourage other

broadcasters to play the same kind of material. He did not consider self-imposed

monitoring to be ideal. Finally, he stated that he refused to believe that the commercial

viability of the station rested on its playing of a single record.

When he received Mr Healing's final comment, the station manager confirmed that

there was another version of the song, but that it was an inferior version, and

definitely not an acceptable substitute.

When it examines a complaint about a breach of good taste, the Authority applies the

standard set down in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which requires

broadcasters:

R2   To take into consideration currently accepted norms of decency

and good taste in language and behaviour, bearing in mind the context

in which any language or behaviour occurs.


The relevant contextual matters which the Authority takes into account are the time

and frequency of the broadcast, the context of the words within the song, the general

tone of the lyrics, and the type of radio station on which the song was played.

The Authority notes from the correspondence that the broadcast of the song was not

confined to later evening hours when children would be less likely to be listening,

although C93 FM advised that when it was played initially, the song "Creep" was

played only at night. It was apparently played frequently because it was popular

with the audience and, in the 8-9 months it had been playing the song, C93 FM had

only received one other written complaint about the song, and no more than three

phone calls.

Next, the Authority examines the context of the offensive words within the song. The

song, based on a theme of unrequited love, is the lament of a young man who wishes

he was more special, and not just a creep and a weirdo. The "f" word is repeated once

in each of the three choruses in a tone of resignation and despair. In the Authority's

view, it is incidental to the theme of the song and, while the "f" word is not considered

appropriate language to many people, in this context it is not used in an offensive

manner or in a strident tone. The Authority takes account of these factors when it

decides that in the context of the song "Creep", the language is not offensive. In

making its decision it also takes into account the fact that C93 FM is a station targeted

at young people. However, it reminds the station that targeting young people does

not give it a licence to broadcast any and all songs which contain offensive language.

 

For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Sam Maling
Chairperson
10 July 1997

Appendix


R J Healing's Complaint to C93 FM - 23 April 1997

Mr Healing of Christchurch complained to C93 FM about its broadcast, on several

occasions, of a song which contained offensive language. The line, "something

f...special" was in a song which he believed was called "Something Special". He noted

that he had telephoned a sales representative at the station about the song but no

action had been taken.

Mr Healing's Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 19 May

1997

Mr Healing advised that he had not received a response from the station and that the

song continued to be played. He referred the complaint to the Authority under

s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

C93 FM's Response to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 27 May 1997

C93 FM advised the Authority that its target audience was males aged 18-39 and that

over the past six years it had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in research and

marketing to ensure it related to its audience.

During that time, it noted that there had been a significant trend in rock music to leave

"objectionable" words in songs, rather than delete them. Further, some words which

were previously unacceptable had effectively become everyday language, especially

among younger males. The station wrote that it applied a conservative approach to

striking the balance between relating to its audience on the one hand and avoiding

offence on the other hand.

The song in question was "Creep" by the British band Radiohead, one of the most

popular bands of the 90s for New Zealand rock fans. It noted that Radiohead's album

"The Bends" was among the top five selling records of all time for Echo Records (a

Christchurch retailer for rock music).

C93 FM explained that at first it decided against playing the record, because of the "f"

word in the lyrics, but on further debate decided to trial it, mainly in the evening. At

its next audience test, "Creep" was the 49th most popular song overall (out of 430

songs), so the station expanded the hours of play to 10.00am onwards. At its

February 1997 music test, it was the 18th most popular song overall (out of 403).

The station noted that it was the most listened to station for males aged 18 and over in

Christchurch, and it attributed this success to knowing its audience.

C93 FM noted that it received many songs containing questionable language, but that

it only considered playing them if they were relevant to its target market. It wrote:

With the imminent arrival of a further (and more) direct competitor we feel that

it would be "commercial suicide" to impose any restrictions on C93, given that

we already have a strong self-imposed monitoring and decision making process

in this regard.

C93 FM apologised for not replying to Mr Healing's letter, explaining that it had been

mislaid.

Mr Healing's Final Comment - 6 June 1997

Mr Healing commented first on C93 FM's argument that because the "f" word was

used more widely, it can be broadcast on the airwaves. He described as plainly

ludicrous the suggestion that it had become everyday language.

Mr Healing noted that for many years he had coached and refereed soccer at all levels

in New Zealand and overseas and had spent considerable time with players in the 18-

39 year age group. He pointed out that the use of foul and abusive language resulted in

instant dismissal from the field.

Mr Healing observed that television broadcasters provided a warning when offensive

language was to be broadcast, which gave viewers the opportunity to use the off

switch. In his view, radio was more intrusive and far-reaching and the off switch was

not always available.

With respect to the song itself, Mr Healing said that he could well understand why

listeners liked it. However, he found the part of the song which gratuitously used the

"f" word to be deeply offensive. He could not understand why the word was

necessary, especially as he had heard an alternative rendition of the same song on the

station in which no offensive words were used. He found this version just as

enjoyable and the use of the alternative lyrics in no way detracted from the song.

Turning to C93 FM's audience research, Mr Healing said that he doubted that the 18-

39 year old all male audience could be fairly described as arbiters of public taste and

sensibilities.

With respect to the arrival of a new competitor and the need to avoid imposing

restrictions on C93 FM, Mr Healing responded that if there were no restrictions as to

what was played, the new competitor would also play the same material. Secondly,

self-imposed monitoring was far from an ideal form of monitoring because it was

driven by commercial considerations.

Finally, Mr Healing stated that he refused to believe the commercial viability of the

station balanced on the playing of a single record. At the heart of the matter was

whether any station had the right to arbitrarily determine what could be broadcast. In

his view, the station did not have that right.

C93 FM responded by telephone to Mr Healing's final comment. It noted that there

is another version of the song, played occasionally on the station, but that it is a very

inferior version as far as the sound and production qualities are concerned. In C93

FM's view, it was not an alternative.