Campus Radio Affirms Right to Play Music by The Tiger Lillies: Sensitive Christians Lose Bid to Stifle Freedom of Expression

0 Posted by - May 20, 2007 - Blog

McGill University radio station (CKUT) in Montreal has been vindicated in its decision to air ‘Bang in the Nails’ by the musical performance troupe the Tiger Lillies.

Last October, after airing the song, CKUT received a complaint that the song was distasteful, hateful and “gleefully mocked” the Crucifixion. The offended Christians also argued that CKUT, in airing a song that glorified hatred, contempt and sadistic violence towards a venerated religious figure, contravened provisions of both the Broadcasting Act (the Act) and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Here’s the remarkable thing. After conducting an internal review of the decision to air the song, the campus station acknowledged the song's controversial nature and issued an on-air apology for not having contextualized the song. In the apology CKUT also expressed its regrets for having offended any of its listeners and provided contact information for any listeners who wished to provide additional feedback.

CKUT's remarkable on-air apology was simply not enough for the offended Christians…

The complainants wanted an apology stating that the station had contravened broadcasting policy by airing the song, and apologizing for any offence caused to its listeners – and, that it was reviewing its guidelines and policies to ensure that it never happened again. CKUT refused.

The offended listeners then demanded that CKUT provide a convincing contextualization of the song. They did. They described the song as a “very pointed comment on people growing up with strict religious beliefs and turning against them,” and noted that it did not read any sexual violation in the song. It contended that, on the whole, the lyrics were suggestive of a self-conscious parody and that the purpose of the song was to shock and provoke a reaction rather than promote hatred against Christians. It also submitted that The Tiger Lillies play “with lowbrow humour and satire to comment on all things sacred, often pointing out the extreme amounts of violence that are sanctioned on a daily basis in our cultural history.”

Still, the offended Christians wanted more.

Next step for the anti-Tiger Lillians was to lodge a complaint with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)demanding that the Commission, among other things, force CKUT to remove the song from their playlist, apologize on-air and in writing for having played the song, and have the infraction noted in its file for its next license review.

In October 2006, CRTC staff issued a decision rejecting the demands and supporting CKUT’s right to play the song.

Still not satisfied, the complainants demanded that the Commission review the staff decision. On Monday this week, the Commissioners also supported CKUT’s right to play the song.

The Commission noted that the primary purpose of campus radio stations is to offer programming that is different in style and substance from the programming offered by other types of radio stations — in other words, to provide music outside of the mainstream that does not receive exposure on commercial radio stations, and that listeners of such stations should expect to hear music that is out of the ordinary. That it may be shocking to some comes with the terrirotry.

The Commissioners also noted that the general nature of the Tiger Lillies’ music, the character of its live performances, and the venues where they have performed, all suggest that “this musical group employs satire and other comedic devices to relay its artistic messages [and that] the use of satire goes to the question of abusive intent, that is, whether satirical comments are likely to expose an individual or group to hatred or contempt.” The song, they said, was satire.


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