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Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 08:41 UK time, Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Radio 1's short-lived decision to ban the word "faggot" from the classic Fairytale of New York by the Pogues has triggered the most one-sided audience reaction of any story since I've been editor of Newsbeat. Many hundreds of texts, e-mails and online comments have come in - berating the network for "political correctness". Radio 1 originally defended its decision by pointing out that it is a word "members of our audience find offensive”… and then by late afternoon on Tuesday, controller Andy Parfitt overturned the ban - admitting the edit had been wrong, while praising his music team for being "vigilant" about possible offence from lyrics.

Radio One logoYou'll have your own views on all this and Newsbeat is not here to attack or support its parent network - but simply to report the news for its millions of listeners.

It raises some interesting dilemmas for us though: without Radio 1's 10 million plus audience Newsbeat wouldn't exist. But what happens when the station itself IS the news? Does this cramp our journalistic vigour or make us feel we shouldn't take on "the mother ship”? I don't think it does - nor should it ever do so. If we argue that our job is to report the news without fair or favour for other organisations, why should Radio 1 be exempt from that rule? I think pulling our punches would be failing our listeners - Radio 1's listeners. That's just my view.

Shane McGowanBut - some texters pointed out - if Radio 1 has banned the word "faggot" why are you, Newsbeat, using it? In fact, the word has been used more times in our news coverage of the story than it would have been in the handful of plays the track would have got between now and Christmas. They've got a good point: but we can't tell the story or inform the debate on it all - unless we do use the word.

There's another issue: did Newsbeat's prominent coverage of the story effectively pressurize the network into making the U-turn - and is that right or wrong? We would argue we covered the story in an impartial way, not as a campaign - the audience responded angrily and in volume and we reflected that on our coverage… but if we hadn't covered it in the first place, would it all have blown over? If Radio 1 had defended their original position earlier in public (they didn't - allowing opponents a free hit), would some of the critics have been won over and would the row have fizzled out? It is the job of BBC journalists to harry the networks that give them airtime?

Kirsty MacCollThere's a larger story too: the pressure that regulators are, rightly or wrongly, putting on broadcasters to avoid offensive words and phrases in music and the greater public scrutiny that broadcasters are under. There's a big debate going on about violence, lyrical content and sexism in hip-hop lyrics and homophobia in reggae dancehall. Again, it's for you to decide whether this scrutiny is right or wrong - an infringement of artistic creativity or a justified defence of minority interests - or perhaps just meddling by journalists? That's a debate for another day but this debate is helping to shape the landscape of modern music broadcasting.

And is the boss of Radio 1, Andy Parfitt, still talking to me? Amazingly… yes, he is! I think…


  • 1.
  • At 10:33 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • DaveH wrote:

One victory over the Thought Police at last.

  • 2.
  • At 10:55 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • David Norbury wrote:

Personally, I think that it is only the regard that this song is held in that has made this debate come around. I can imagine the outrage that would be generated should Radio 1 play an Eminem song with the workd "faggot" in it so why should it be any different for Fairytale..? It's not as if it's used out of context here - it is, overtly, an insult. The double standards of people is unbelievable - the fact that it hasn't been censored before is not a reason to perpetuate the use of it now.

I suppose the redeeming factor is that this song was written and performed by a fantastic role model for the youth of today... Oh, wait...

  • 3.
  • At 11:20 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

I think everyone has been starved of their annual "Christmas is banned" story this year, and this came along at just the right time!

Interesting seeing two things in the general response...

- most gay listeners/readers arguing against the censorship

- a number of people using the issue as an excuse to peddle genuine anti-gay sentiment

To this extent (and to the extent that the BBC has handed more ammunition to the Daily Mailers who attack it for an apparent culture of PC) , I have to say, the original decision to censor the song has backfired spectacularly.

At least radio 1 listened to public opinion, and Newsbeat was right to report it in the way that it did.

  • 4.
  • At 11:52 AM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Peter Galbavy wrote:

It's quite simple. Either play unedited/uncensored music or don't play it. Don't try to "fix" it.

  • 5.
  • At 12:07 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Charlie Cannon wrote:

Well said David Norbury - I completely agree.

The word is incredibly offensive and I would EXPECT it to be bleeped out of any new release it featured in.

  • 6.
  • At 12:08 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Sue Herbert wrote:

Hi there
What a great decision! Well done Andy (and Rod...).

We have listened to this song for the last 20 years with these lyrics and never been offended, so why should we all suddenly start to be offended now?

Great song for Christmas. Great memories. And a great tribute to a great Lady!


  • 7.
  • At 12:39 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Duncan wrote:

If it contains offensive lyrics, just don't play it. There are millions of other songs out there. Or, play it unedited, and don't edit offensive lyrics out of rap either.

Anyway isn't Radio 1 meant to be the station for new music? Why is it playing a song from 20 years ago?

  • 8.
  • At 01:04 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Grant wrote:

At last, the majority wins over the "moral minority".

The record is a classic and should NEVER have been touched.

  • 9.
  • At 01:23 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Ben Holland wrote:

Amazing that Newsbeat can reflect on its actions so intelligently when its output is actually simplistic pap over garnished with 'interactive response'.

  • 10.
  • At 01:28 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Baz Ricketts wrote:

Just an idea....

Why not announce (like they do in certain circumstances on TV programmes)that 'the following song contains words that some people may find offensive'

hey presto - you don't know what the offensive words are, but that prewarning gives you the chance to switch off!!

  • 11.
  • At 01:35 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Mark M wrote:

'not as a campaign'? That's a bit hard to swallow- this was a pretty insignificant story blown up to be the first item on all of your reports for the whole day; a day when a new leader of one of the main political parties was announced.

I didn't agree with the editing of the song of course, but I do think that Newsbeat saw a bit of an exclusive on its doorstep and effectively created the story by stoking the fire as much as it could. I'm not really sure that a news programme should be working in that way- the main stories are just there to be reported on, not to be changed by the reports. I find it hard to believe that the result of having the ban overturned wasn't what the Newsbeat editors wanted when they set out on reporting on it so strongly just because they personally didn't agree with the censorship, and in principle that seems like letting personal opinions getting in the way of straight reporting.
Certainly no other outlets covered it so strongly- and I'm not sure that a 20 year old song is really all that relevant to Radio 1/Newsbeat's audience.

  • 12.
  • At 01:35 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

Just out of interest, how many people complained about the word before you decided to ban it?

  • 13.
  • At 01:44 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Steve H wrote:

This is a wonderful story. "cutting-edge radio station gets itself into a lather about lyrics from a song older than most of its listeners, which it won't play much anyway!"

Apart from the obvious- handing a victory to the anti-pc brigade,shooting itself in the foot in a way our present prime minister would be hard pushed to- there is one thought that springs to mind over and over again for me. Chris Moyles is old, boorish and offends me just by existing, never mind being an overbearing oaf with the ego of a small planet who is paid way more than he earns. Can we ban him from Radio 1 too please.?

  • 14.
  • At 01:45 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Hugh McGoldrick wrote:

Completely OTT.

The song took two years to compose and is a classic.

A shocking decision inflicted on the licence fee payers.

  • 15.
  • At 01:48 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Kevin Joslin wrote:

Isn't it great that we have these fine upstanding people to safeguard the innocent ears of our children.

Clearly those that made this decision have not had recent experience of a primary school 'playtime' where the words faggot and slut would be regarded as very tame insults.

There's nothing quite like Christmas to bring out the ghosts of Whitehouse past.

  • 16.
  • At 01:51 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Astaire wrote:

'They've got a good point: but we can't tell the story or inform the debate on it all - unless we do use the word.'

Actually, you can I would have thought but mainly this is a bit of an inconsistency. I don't recall the BBC showing us pictures of Mohammed with his head piece replaced by a bomb to illustrate the Danish cartoon incident last year?

Nor would you in any way seek to illustrate what rape is with today's news story.

Just a point, that's all.

On the song itself, it's another of those stories where very few people would have taken any sexual conotation of the lyric had it not been brought to their attention in this way.

  • 17.
  • At 02:05 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Kevin May wrote:

Fairtyale of New York tells a story - it's a work of fiction and should be treated as such. What depresses me is the 'real life' attitudes of some Radio 1 DJs who in an effort to be 'cool' and 'relevant' give over a relentless veneer of cynicism and boorishness. Their whole attitude does much more damage to society and individuals than a word in an old song.

  • 18.
  • At 02:21 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Heidi wrote:

I find it interesting that all of the kerfuffle seems to be about 'faggot' when the song is peppered with insults. It is a song of insults about hatred based on an individual relationship breakdown. It seems strange to me that people berating the use of faggot don't seem to attack the use of slut with the same virulence the intent to insult is as strong in both words!
The question with regards the usage in other songs is surely one of incitement - nowhere does this song condone attacks on women or homosexuals which is the real problem with hip-hop.

  • 19.
  • At 02:22 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • John Smith wrote:

it should be banned...simply because it's a nausiating pile of rubbish that is played to death every single year!

  • 20.
  • At 03:15 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Philip wrote:

Great record should never ever have been touched after all its just a word

  • 21.
  • At 03:17 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • David Norbury wrote:

Thank you John Smith - I always thought it was just me. The song is only mildly better than the usual Christmas fayre, it being a gimmicky take on a standard format, and the fact that it is "cool" (probably because of the "hilarious" argument lines) is the only reason people say they like it. At the end of the day, it gets played to death every year to the point that I'm sick of it as well.

  • 22.
  • At 03:27 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Dectora wrote:

Just for a start we are discussing lyrics written by someone who speaks Hiberno-English, in which certain words have a distinct meaning. In rural Ireland 'faggot' means someone who is useless or lazy. It has no relation whatsoever to homosexuality. As a small (female) child I was often called a 'lazy faggot'. I hope that this calms David Norbury and Charlie Cannon a bit.

  • 23.
  • At 03:29 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Gareth wrote:

It's amazing how many people are using the fact that they view this song as 'quality' as a justification for allowing the inclusion of an offensive word. I happen to agree that the word is part of the song's character but then I also happen to like Hip Hop / Rap and have come to accept that songs containing inappropriate language will be censored before the watershed. If I want to listen to the unedited version then I can buy it in the shops. Surely the same principle should apply to all songs irrespective of their perceived quality?
Too many times we see the anti-PC brigade complaining about censorship when it is something they like (Fairytale of New York) and pushing for censorship when it is something they don't (Hip Hop).

  • 24.
  • At 03:45 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Tim McMahon wrote:

Opposed to John Smith's comment the Pogues Fairy Tale in New York is a classic but only tuned-in hearing of music lovers would acknowledge this so John keep on listening to Slades effort which is 'a nauseating pile of rubbish',flogged to death every year,but sadly not yet exstinguished !! Isuppose you will not be buying or downloading 2007 Christmas number 1=The Pogues!Have a nice Christmas if you are capable.

This is hands down the funniest story of the year.
Not only did it feature an absolutely ridiculous premise, it also transpired that BBC Radio 2 had no intention of censoring the song, with the strange situation of Radio 2 being more radical than Radio 1! Incredible.
My goodness to have been a fly on the wall at the editors meeting when they were deciding to censor the lyrics. I look forward to the next moment of hilarity when the BBC attempts to ban the word poof from Tori Amos' - Riot Poof...
Keep on wasting the licence fee, it won't be there much longer at this rate.

  • 26.
  • At 04:07 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • ash wrote:

I think the fact that all of these posts are moderated says a lot on this debate, admitedly moderation within the bbc is to be expected in this day and age and the bbc has duities to be responsable with our licence fees. But to put 'complain about this post' at the bottom, rather than, for instance, to 'discuss' compounds a move towards a p-c, american style suing culture that kills off debate and liberal thought for fear of courting contraversy.

  • 27.
  • At 04:33 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Andrew Kerr wrote:

When Huw Edwards interviewed Andy Parfitt on News 24 yesterday afternoon, Parfitt let slip that the Pogues' song had been edited as a result of some general review of Radio 1's playlist to determine which songs required editing - or words to that effect.

May we please have an assurance that Radio 1 will not edit artiste's works without their express consent? Play it or ban it - but don't mess it about.

  • 28.
  • At 04:43 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Jon wrote:

I think the whole story was bizzare. This is not the first time this song has been edited out - its been happening for years so I think its very strange that its become such an issue this time around. To be honest I dont like words being edited out of songs, but I do feel radio 1 were being careful not too offend so I dont they should be critsized for that.

  • 29.
  • At 04:54 PM on 19 Dec 2007,
  • Julia wrote:

The point is Gareth that this song is 20 years old. If it was so offensive why have the BBC taken 19 years to make the decision to bleep out the word "faggot"? get over yourselves people, it's just a song

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