Broadcasters Put Freedom of Speech in Dire Straits

Twenty-five years after Dire Straits released the sarcastic, seminal radio hit "Money for Nothing," Canadian broadcasters have banned the song from their airwaves, and it's the government that's urging them to reconsider.

This month,  the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, a non-govermnent body owned by broadcasters,  objected to an anti-gay slur that repeats throughout the new wave electro hit single, and determined that it wasn't fit to air. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC), the government regulatory body, then got more then 250 complaints about the ban, and asked the Council to reverse course.

The song, for those who have been strategically located under a rock for the last 25 years, is one of the defining songs of 80's pop. It begins with the then-ubiquitous refrain of “I want my MTV” and follows with a tongue and cheek diatribe against musicians living an alleged life of ease.

So what’s the issue? Well one of the lyrics is about a "little f------  with the earring and the make-up," interpreted as a reference to everyone from Michael Jackson to Motley Crue.

In a 1985 Rolling Stone interview Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler expressed that the usage of the word was meant to cast a pall of stupidity on the imagined speaker of the lyrics. He said,

In fact, I'm still in two minds as to whether it's a good idea to write songs that aren't in the first person, to take on other characters. The singer in "Money for Nothing" is a real ignoramus, hard hat mentality - somebody who sees everything in financial terms. I mean, this guy has a grudging respect for rock stars. He sees it in terms of, well, that's not working and yet the guy's rich: that's a good scam. He isn't sneering.

The ban started with a complaint to a radio station in Newfoundland. Is this a case of someone just not getting sarcasm, and sensitivity running amok? Or are there some words (one starting with N comes to mind) that have no place on modern airwaves, context notwithstanding?

Let the Canadians fight this one out. We'll be watching from below.