Katy Perry song not harmful – BCCSA

2012-06-12 14:35

The Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA) has refused to uphold an appeal against its earlier ruling, which found that a song by Katy Perry was not harmful to children.

Ashby Kurian, a pastor, had complained to the commission that East Coast Radio had played a song which, as the father of two girls, he found inappropriate and offensive.

Last Friday Night, by Katy Perry, contained suggestions of nudity, inappropriate sexual behaviour, and law-breaking, he said.

“One very effective way to teach children to remember a message is through songs as it also works subliminally,” he said in his original complaint to the commission.

“Please put a stop to this or we will have more school going boys and girls ending up in the 7pm e-tv news of bunking school, drinking and rape. (sic)”

Knowledge of the song

In its response, East Coast Radio submitted that the song had been an enormous hit around the world.

“This song has enjoyed huge airplay on TV, other radio stations, YouTube, and it has been widely downloaded, so we can’t be solely responsible for the knowledge of the song,” said Nick Grubb, chief operating officer of Kagiso Broadcasting, on behalf of East Coast Radio.

“I think the reasonable person will listen to the song for the happy tune and sing-a-long melody and not assume that what is portrayed in the song is right or should be tried.”

Love songs frequently spoke of being broken-hearted, but this did not stop people from falling in love, he said.

Kurian denied the radio station’s assertion that the lyrics were not explicit and children would not understand the sexual connotations.

“Today’s children are more advanced than a decade ago, and are exposed to sexual content and connotations from the age of five,” he said.

No offensive language
Kurian presented letters from school principals in support of his campaign to prevent lyrics with sexual content from being broadcast when children may be part of the audience.

The code of conduct for broadcasters stated that “no excessively or grossly offensive language should be used... at times when a large number of children is likely to be part of the audience on television or radio”.

The commission’s tribunal, chaired by Professor Kobus van Rooyen, in its written judgment, found there was no excessively or grossly offensive language in the lyrics of the song.

Kurian himself argued the message was subliminal and subtle.

Hence, the code had not been violated in this respect.

Complex media environment

Kurian’s argument was that the song glamourised sexual and illegal conduct and perhaps made young adults more likely to engage in such behaviour.

But the tribunal responded that while older children might be able to decode the meaning of the song, there were no explicit references to sexual activity.

“The appellant conceded that the influence of such lyrics was not seen immediately,” it said.

“Rather it was argued lyrics like these would have an influence on children as they grow.”

Children had to be prepared for a complex media environment.

“Songs like this Katy Perry song exist in the context of our free and fairly permissive society,” it said, encouraging parents and caretakers to protect children from what they considered detrimental.

“It can also be argued that a completely sanitised media environment in the hours in which children may be listening is neither possible nor desirable.”

A vague notion of subliminal harm was insufficient justification for an incursion into the right to freedom of expression.

Though some citizens might find the words of these songs offensive, it did not justify a general finding which would impact on freedom of expression.

“In the result, we find that the broadcaster did not contravene the broadcasting code and the appeal against the adjudication is not upheld,” the tribunal ruled.

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