‘Sometimes’ OK to play songs containing F-word on French radio: broadcast council

By CityNews Staff

MONTREAL — It’s acceptable in most cases for French radio stations to play English songs containing the F-word during the daytime, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council said Wednesday.

In a written decision, the organization said that when the overall programming is in French, only songs where the word is used frequently or to insult someone breach its code of ethics.

The council’s code of ethics limits use of the F-word on English stations to late evening broadcasts, but notes that the word doesn’t have the same “vulgar connotation” in French.

“The CBSC has acknowledged that those words do not have the same severity when used by French speakers, so it established a different standard for the use of the English F-word in French-language programming,” the organization wrote in a news release.

The organization said its French-language panel investigated after a listener complained about hearing what she described as “violent, vulgar and sexual” language on a Quebec City pop music radio station. 

The music in question included uncensored versions of hit songs by Lil Nas X, Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi, and Gayle.

The listener acknowledged that the F-word is less severe in French, but argued that English songs broadcast on French stations should be considered English programs. 

The station argued otherwise, adding that the songs were hits and that the station wanted to “maintain the integrity of the work.”

The decision from the CBSC, a self-regulatory organization created by private broadcasters to deal with viewer or listener complaints, sided largely with the station, CHXX-FM. It agreed that as a French station, more lenient rules apply to the music it plays, even if the lyrics are in English.

However, one of the songs the panel analyzed — “abcdefu” by Gayle — violated the code of ethics because the F-word was used repeatedly and directed “in a very aggressive way” at a series of individuals related to the singer’s ex-boyfriend, the panel found.

According to the news release, the panel agreed that, even if the occasional F-word is acceptable, broadcasters should try to offer high-quality content and should consider playing edited versions of the songs when possible.

“Even if a station’s music targets a younger audience, there is always a choice to be made, and the panel is of the opinion that this choice should always encourage the use of civil language and be sensitive to audience expectations, especially during peak listening hours,” the panel wrote.

It suggested that in programming where the use of offensive words in either French or English is inevitable, broadcasters should acknowledge them by apologizing or advising people in advance in order to allow them to tune out if they prefer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2022.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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