Thanks to the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Centre), any music deemed “inappropriate” was labelled as so, censoring free speech across all music platforms. Back then the only way to get your musical fix was through vinyl or radio but the internet makes everything available to everyone – so why do people still care about music censorship? Why are people even bothering to censor music anymore?
Censorship is a broad word – it’s hard to understand what is acceptable or not and it seems like every institution, artist and reporter has their own idea of what is “offensive”, but this leaves the question: who is in charge of what gets played and what doesn’t? Every country, every radio station and every streaming service has their own rules; their own regulations on what they will broadcast. In countries such as Russia, China and Turkey it’s safe to say that a lot of censorship comes from the government – the broadcasters and record shops being afraid of getting prosecuted for the music or even the message they project to their audience.
Broadcasters in the UK and US of course still have their own guidelines – BBC radio stations are owned by the government so a lot of their decisions are down to what is appropriate, which of course means they will never play anything that goes against the government, their decisions or basically any song which has a strong political message. For examples, read more here
Express FM, Capital, Heart, Magic and other independent stations won’t play political songs either.
Darren from Express FM gives insight to how everything works at independent radio stations. “Its common sense if you’re playing a song and you think would that offend someone? Your alarm bells would say “probably yeah” – so don’t play it. You have to think of your audience, a lot of the stuff we air is radio edited. If it’s not we won’t play it.” Listen to the full interview below.
Although Darren gives a perfectly good explanation to why Radio stations steer away from playing controversial songs, singer/storyteller Rory Mcleod gives us the musician’s side of things. He talks of when his song ‘No More Blood for Oil’ was played by Mike Harding on BBC radio 2 – one of the rare occasions of a Radio DJ pushing the boundaries. Rory says “I was surprised, so were other regular listeners. It got positive feedback because it was a political and topical song and articulated feelings of some listeners.”
He adds “I wouldn’t mind my songs being heard by more people to get them to discuss the social issues and bring attention to them”
Mark Harding was replaced by Mark Radcliffe in 2012, could it be because he pushed the boundaries?
Other songs by Mcleod that have been banned include “Pauline’s song”, banned for using the word sperm “One of the song’s themes in ‘Pauline’s Song’ does touch upon ‘sexual politics’ in an informal, honest and childlike way…to my ears, it’s about a girl standing her ground.”
The folk musician says he would never compromise his music, artistic control nor choices in order to “become more popular or get more airplay”. “I think there is and has always been some kind of ‘Cultural Colonialism’ in music, in our own storytelling versus the ‘history-Books’ and art. What is put in and what is left out of the history books always depends on who are allowed to tell the stories… our stories… the stories of Nurses, single mothers, farming women, fishermen, refugees, and cleaners… soldiers, immigrants. He adds “History is often told/written taught and published by the ‘victors,’ the ‘winners,’ not by the ‘oppressed and defeated. Everyone needs to be able to given a voice to express themselves however they can.”
Charlie, manager of record shop Crypt of the Wizard has a very different approach to Censorship. He believes censorship “was always irrelevant, it never really mattered. It’s a panacea for people who are upset by language” Watch the full interview below.
Moddi, otherwise known as Pål Moddi Knutsen calls censorship a “frightening topic” saying that “While classical [state] censorship is mostly a thing of the past, there is a move towards the more subtle forms like social exclusion, radio formatting and editorial bias”
Moddi has started a project called Unsongs: Forbidden Stories where he and photographer Jørgen Nordby set out to find songs that have at one point been banned, censored or silenced and speak to musicians who “have little in common except their tireless struggle for the right to sing”. They recreate 12 songs from 12 countries. Find out more here.
Pål believes that censorship is more relevant now than it ever has been, “While certainly challenging old modes of censorship, the Internet era offers new ones that may be even more difficult to fight. The constant overload of information that we’re offered makes us believe that we know everything there is to know, without thinking too much about the messages we do not get to hear. The fact that information is accessible online doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to locate.”
Pål talks about self-censorship, saying that “Usually we talk about censorship as something which is done by states, while really we should discuss how musicians perform a sort of self-censorship. When writing a song, the potential reactions of audience, media, music industry and authorities is constantly in the back of your head. Making musicians aware of the potential they have if they dare to challenge their own barriers has been one of the main aims of this project.”
In the US and the UK “self-censorship” is the main issue – with people being wary of what will restrict their music – do they want to put their message before the consequence that comes after? What is the consequence?
Although commercial radios censor their music because of their devotion to the government, independent radios have to censor their music as a precaution to avoid losing their audience. Whilst this is understandable, as Rory says, radio is a way for artists (especially those who aren’t in the public eye) to spark conversations we should probably be having. Maybe censorship is relevant because it’s controlling what we’re absorbing and more importantly taking away musicians right to free speech.
So, whilst it seems that censorship would be irrelevant in a time where children can listen to whatever they want whenever they want, censorship is restricting conversations and it could be said that it is “corrupting” the way we receive information through music. So is censoring music to “protect” the audience just another excuse for the government to stop the public from having important conversations? It’s hard to say, but what is definite is that it seems like censorship isn’t going away any time soon.