Tuesday, February 21, 2006

freemuse report on US music censorship

The continuing row over the Danish cartoons has generated much debate over limits to the “freedom of expression”. Vivid proof of limitations to the freedom of expression in the musical arena came earlier this month when the Rolling Stones played the US Super Bowl halftime show.

The Rolling Stones’ performance was subjected to a form of censorship. When the group was singing lyrics deemed too suggestive, the microphones were temporarily silenced. In addition ABC, the broadcaster of the concert, imposed a five-second delay in transmission in case further censorship was needed.

Although the Stones later said that the censorship had been “absolutely ridiculous” and completely unnecessary, a National Football League spokesman stressed that the group had agreed to it.

By chance, the censorship of music in the US since September 11 is the subject of a special report, “Singing in the Echo Chamber”, published a few days ago by the Copenhagen-based charity Freemuse which campaigns against music censorship

Freemuse says it is often assumed that violations of freedom of expression occur only in distant, undemocratic countries ruled by despots. “However, it has become obvious that any country undergoing war or stress introduces censorship as a tool to control its population and emerging discontent within the society.”

The picture on the cover of the 64-page report shows gleeful children trampling CDs underfoot. The report’s author, Eric Nuzum, sees the current censorship as part of the wider pattern of curbs on civil liberties in the US since September 11.

Nuzum highlights the role that much of the US media is playing in banning or condemning certain types of music, songs or actions of musicians. Citizens seem to support this, with four out of ten Americans considering that music should be censored.

The “echo chamber” in the report’s title refers to the media’s endless repetition of a news item without any sense of the checks and balances normally applied to reporting. In the post-September 11 climate, once an action has been labelled as “treasonous”, “unpatriotic”, “anti-Bush” or “unsupportive of troops”, these statements tend to become part of the echo.

Among the US music acts which have suffered reprisals from radio stations and other media and from the music-buying public because of their stance on US President George W Bush and the war in Iraq are the group Pearl Jam, the girl band Dixie Chicks and the singer Linda Ronstadt.

Although some eminent musicians have used their music to protest against Bush and the war in Iraq, the Freemuse report points out that some observers think this protest music is being stifled by the powerful corporations controlling the music industry.

There are also increasing curbs on suggestive material, particularly since the Super Bowl incident in 2004 when Janet Jackson’s breast was momentarily exposed by her famous “wardrobe malfunction.” This explains why the Rolling Stones found themselves censored.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 21 February 2006

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