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CRTC urges second look at ban of Dire Straits song

Mark Knopfler in performance

Prepare for the chugga-chugga guitar riff of the Dire Straits 1985 hit Money for Nothing to be lodged in your brain for more time to come as federal regulations seek to continue the debate over the banned song on a national scale.

In a letter to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Commission, federal regulators are asking the commission to rethink its ban of Money For Nothing and the derogatory use of the word "faggot."

In the letter, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission said it has since received a number of complaints, "most of which have suggested that the CBSC made an incorrect decision." The CRTC has forwarded approximately 250 letters from the public to the CBSC, and it is recommending that the standards commission take the issue before a national panel.

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Ronald Cohen, national chair of the standards commission, said it isn't mandatory that the CBSC follow the request, but "there is no reason that we would not embrace the opportunity to do exactly what they are asking."

The CRTC, however, "has ultimate authority, as they do in all broadcasting and telecom matters," he added.

Although the original ruling banning the song was by the CBSC's Atlantic regional panel, the ban is effective across Canada. So, the CRTC says it should be re-examined from that larger perspective.

As a staple of classic-rock radio for 2½ decades, some stations, such as Q104 Halifax, have flouted the decision altogether and have continued to play the song.

"I think audiences in general have felt that this impinges on their right to free speech," said J.C. Douglas, program director at Q104, which even played the song eight times in a row from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. a week ago.

Mr. Douglas has called the offending word "ugly, destructive and hurtful," but he also feels that given the context of this song, the ban merely trivializes gay-rights issues. He has received around 1,000 e-mails, mostly supporting the station's position.

The CBSC announced the ban on Jan. 12 in response to a complaint in Newfoundland last February about radio station OZ FM broadcasting the song, specifically its original version from the band's career-defining album Brothers In Arms. Some other versions have had the lines with the word "faggot" altered or edited out, in part to cut down the song's original length of more than eight minutes. Sometimes band frontman Mark Knopfler has substituted a different word, such as a "queenie." The CBSC ruled that stations can play an edited version without the offending word.

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With backup vocals by Sting, the lyrics are meant to be from the perspective of a not-too-bright delivery man, who watches rich rock stars on MTV and disparages their seeming ability to have everything in life. Over the years, the song has also been criticized for apparent racism ("bangin' on the bongos like a chimpanzee") and sexism ("get you money for nothin' and your chicks for free").

Supporters e-mailing radio stations like Q104 "felt like we were sticking up for the common man - which is more credit than we deserve, because we were really taking to task a niggling point in the CBSC's decision," Mr. Douglas said.

"It was what the decision was hinged on: Whether or not contextual consideration should be extended to a songwriter in the same fashion they would be to a screenwriter or documentary producer. That's what it came down to for us, that songs should be considered for context the same as any longer-form artwork is," he said.

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