The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has asked the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) to review its recent decision to ban the unedited version of the song "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits from Canadian Radio.

On January 12th, the CBSC found that the use of the word "******" contravened the Human Rights Clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ (CAB) Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code and should be edited from the song for airplay.

Clause 2 of the CAB's Human Rights code states
Recognizing that every person has the right to full and equal recognition and to enjoy certain fundamental rights and freedoms, broadcasters shall ensure that their programming contains no abusive or unduly discriminatory material or comment which is based on matters of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status or physical or mental disability.
Read the CBSC decision
The Commission has asked the CBSC to appoint a national panel to review the complaints after it received approximately 250 letters from Canadians complaining about the decision. The CBSC is an industry trade group whose members includes more than 730 private sector radio and television stations across Canada. The group is non-governmental agency that operates with the approval of the CRTC. It's job is adjudicate complaints made by the public about its members on-air behaviour.

In its letter , the CRTC does not ask the CBSC to overturn its decision, rather it asks the group to take another look at the complaint by creating a national panel that would seek submissions from the public and take the following factors into any decision: the context of the particular wording in the song's theme and intended message; the age and origin of the song and the performance date; the prominence of the contested word and the use of that word over time; and the length of time and frequency that it has been playing on the radio.

In simple terms, the CRTC wants the group to hold public hearings to decide whether it’s okay to use the word "******" on radio and television under special circumstances. While the request for a public hearing over the use of the offensive slur in a song seems extremely bureaucratic , the exercise may be beneficial in establishing what language is acceptable on our airwaves and when it is acceptable.

For example, in the United States, the FCC has established the Profane Broadcast Restrictions which prohibit profane speech on broadcast radio and television between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The 10AM and 6PM time period is known in the U.S. as safe harbour. During this time period, a station may air indecent and/or profane material but not obscene material which may not be broadcast at any time.

In the States, airing the word “****” during primetime will lead to a financial fine for the broadcaster whereas in Canada, no such rule applies.

The request by the CRTC could lead to similar and enforceable safe harbour provisions in Canada.

Discuss the decision and its aftermath in Digital Home's Canadian AM/FM Radio forum .