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Beef Of The Week #380: Canada v F***

By | Published on Friday 10 November 2017


OK everyone, time to update the charts on your wall. It’s now fine to say ‘fuck’ on the radio at any time of the night or day. The only stipulation is that you must be in Canada. Oh, and you need to speak loads of French before and after you say it.

This story actually begins with the subject of a previous Beef Of The Week – Madonna’s speech at the Women’s March in Washington, DC back in January. And, specifically, a discussion about that speech on Montreal-based French language radio station CKOI-FM.

In this case, the issue was not Madonna admitting that she’d thought about blowing up the White House since the election of President Trump – although presenter Kim Rusk did express some concern about this – it was the clip of the speech broadcast in the middle of the afternoon, in which Madonna said: “And to our detractors that insist that this march will never add up to anything… fuck you”.

Rusk then noted that Madonna had apparently repeated “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you”. Though what Rusk actually said, and this is very important here, was: “Évidemment, elle le répète là ‘fuck you, fuck you, fuck you’, elle a dit que ça. Mais elle a dit aussi une chose. Elle dit ceci. Et moi ça me trouble: ‘Après l’élection, j’ai pensé très très fort et souvent à faire sauter la Maison-Blanche'”.

A listener offended by this repeated use of the good old f-word wrote to CKOI to complain. While the station did apologise for causing offence, it nevertheless refused to accept that it had done anything wrong. Partly on the basis that, as primarily a music station, listeners to CKOI would apparently be interested in anything Madonna might have to say, sweary or otherwise. But mainly because French-speakers, in general, don’t find the word “fuck” offensive.

“We acknowledge that some [sensitive] ears may be offended by that often-called ‘four letter word'”, the station wrote in its response. “However, in French culture, this word doesn’t arouse much reaction. We would even put forward that this English ‘dirty’ word is now, perhaps unfortunately, part of the common French spoken language”.

The complainant, identified as Mr F in correspondence, was not impressed by the response, and so took the matter to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council in March.

“The broadcaster’s response consists in mostly justifying the use of the expression ‘fuck you’ on the air before telling me it judges me to be sensitive”, Mr F wrote to the regulator. “My perception of this reply is the broadcaster does not take me seriously and thinks I’m annoying. That is not an acceptable response”.

Later the same month, Mr F wrote to the CBSC a second time, angered that the f-word had appeared on the radio station during the day yet again. “They’re doing it on purpose”, he seethed.

In this case, the sweary pop star being quoted was Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, and the appearance of the bad word on-air did seem slightly more gratuitous. After a listener said during a phone-in that they’d recently seen Green Day live, presenter Pierre Yves-Lord played a clip of Armstrong protesting after the band’s performance at the iHeartRadio Music Festival was cut short in 2012.

“What the fuck?! I’m not fucking Justin Bieber, you motherfuckers”, is what Armstrong said. But with Lord and the caller’s chat around it, it looks like this:

Lord: Ça lui est déjà arrivé lors d’un gala télédiffusé un moment donné de faire “OK là, vous m’avez demandé d’arrêter là, gang?!” Pis ça –
Caller: Ouin. Ouais, ouais ouais. Non, j’sais, y avait pas apprécié ben ben.
Lord: Non, hein?
Billie Joe Armstrong: What the fuck?! I’m not fucking Justin Bieber, you motherfuckers!
Caller: C’est ça.
Lord: T’aimes ça, qu’on devienne des légendes là, t’sais?

“That’s what legends are made of”, Lord said at the end there. More to the point, it’s what investigations into the use of inappropriate language by broadcast regulators are made of.

At the request of the CBSC, CKOI issued a response to this second complaint, reiterating that the word ‘fuck’ just isn’t all that offensive to French-speakers – this one French-speaker who keeps complaining excepted, of course.

“We reiterate the fact that the use of these words in French-language programmes does not have the same connotation as in English and does not attract much attention among Francophones today”, said the station. “These words have entered the popular parlance and the current vocabulary of the French-speaker”.

It went on: “They are commonly heard on private television and public television, in variety shows, soap operas and movies. They are read in rock music magazines, such as Classic Rock, Mojo, Record Collector, Uncut and many others. Although some may consider this situation deplorable, a language is both alive and reflective of its current society”.

In many ways, that seems like a very long-winded way of saying “fuck off”. It’s a shame they didn’t just say “fuck off”, because that would have been much funnier. I mean, Mr F wouldn’t have been happy with that response, but he wasn’t happy with the one he actually received either. The same day, he wrote to CBSC again, this time requesting a final judgement on the matter.

“The broadcaster keeps stating that it is all right to say ‘fuck you’ on a French radio station and that they are not held accountable to the same standards as everyone else”, the complainer wrote. “They use the expression very regularly; I think they favour its use because it was used on two days out of three last I listened to them”.

You might say that if this person dislikes the use of this word so much, they would be advised to just stop listening to this particular radio station. But perhaps they have no choice. Maybe Mr F hears it at work. Or perhaps it’s blasted out of loud speakers in the streets. I don’t know, but in either case he could check whether anyone else around him is offended.

Still, he continued: “I am still waiting on a ruling for the first complaint and I will ask for a ruling for the third complaint I made and I will continue until they stop using the expression ‘fuck you’ or you contact me with a relevant ruling”.

Well, Mr F, that day has come. CBSC’s panel of adjudicators has finally sat down and given it some thought. I’m not sure you’re going to be happy with the answer though.

The panel did note that Canadian broadcasting rules state that “reflective of local community standards” radio stations should avoid using “unduly coarse and offensive language”.

However, it went on to say that the matter of whether ‘fuck’ counts as “unduly coarse and offensive language” when heard during French-language broadcasts had already been addressed in another ruling last year. And in October 2016 the regulator ruled that the word had indeed become less offensive among French-speakers in recent years.

There were certain stipulations in that ruling though. The primary language of the broadcast must be French, it must be used infrequently, and it must not be used to insult or attack a specific group.

The panel concluded that both instances which had prompted Mr F to complain met these criteria, and therefore no rules had been broken. Which, I think, is another long-winded way of saying “fuck off”.

Alors, fuck moi si ce n’était rien qu’une fucking perte de temps énorme pour tous les fucking participants.

[Please only read that last sentence if you are in French-speaking Canada.]