The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – The Limitations of Airplay
The traditional calypso composition, with its penchant for the risqué expression and the saucy double entendre, not to mention the frequent boast of the performer’s substantial sexual prowess, always sails close to the edge of what may be considered permissible for airplay in these regional societies.
These factors doubtless place the legal publishers of the material to the public, the radio stations, at a severe disadvantage at times such as the current Crop-over season finely to balance their core mission of entertainment with their ethical obligation not to breach the terms of their broadcasting licences by transmitting material for public consumption that may fairly be considered obscene, improper or liable to corrupt public morals and, most important, with their legal obligation not to defame as one leading Barbadian case on the matter has already demonstrated.
This is all outside of the context of the dark tendency, now happily extinct seemingly, of banning from airplay those compositions whose lyrics did not accord with, or parodied, the political dogma of the then governing administration.
Over the years, it would seem, certain protocols have been developed by way of compromise in this context. Thus, verbal or nounal usage of the old Anglo Saxon four-letter word for sexual intercourse, even if only thinly disguised because of a combination of its susceptibility to easy ellipsis and the local dialectical pronunciation of the word “for”, apparently passes muster, no matter how puerile the construction.
In this regard, readers will have heard previously broadcasts of calypsonians using such expressions as singing “Fuh Cree”, and “fuh crown” or “fuh king”; of those people who are “fuh cup”; who are going “fuh cane”; and we recall one effort that pointedly advised another individual “fuh queue”.
Explicit and not so explicit references to assorted sex acts have also gained local airplay periodically. Sparrow’s “Congo Man”, “May May”; Mac Fingall’s “Eating Bacon”, Krosfyah’s “Zak Passé” and Lil Rick’s “Eating too much Conch”, all follow an identical theme of cunnilingus to varying degrees of explicitness. To our best memory, this reference did not serve to ensure their prohibition from the local airwaves.
In such contexts, therefore it may be reasonably understandable that another local radio personality and calypsonian, Mr Ronald Clarke, who performs in the latter guise under the sobriquet, “ De Announcer” would be highly incensed that one of his contributions for this year, the tamely-titled “Reading for Pleasure” has been deemed unfit for broadcast by both of the main local radio stations including, in what must have been the most unkindest cut, the very one at which he is employed and at which he served until recently as lead host of its Crop-over afternoon music show.
Argue as cogently he might that there are other compositions of similar ilk that have not been treated likewise; that the word in dispute is in fact the real name of the author being referred to; and that he does not graphically describe a sex act as others have done before him, Mr Clarke must understand that the limits of airplay are not determined by fairness or reason or even logic, but rather by the extent to which the appointed determiner, using his or her best judgment subjectively, considers the lyrics to be inappropriate for public broadcast.
Of course, his supporters will point out that this level of discretion is likely to lead to inconsistency. This assertion cannot seriously be denied.
But how else might one explain why the popular local expression for the male penis as repeatedly voiced in De Announcer’s song should be deemed verboten while equivalent expressions for the female genitalia should find favour as where a woman was exhorted in one relatively recent effort to “poke he in ‘e eye”. Did not Lord Kitchener once defiantly promise to park his pee-pee [PP car registration] any place? And does anyone really believe that Lord Blakie was singing about a feline when he referred to the thieving pussy they held one night up in Sangre Grande?
Mr Clarke has reportedly threatened suit against the radio stations, probably, I imagine, on the assumption that they have infringed his constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression. There are some difficulties in this scenario, however.
As a private entity, at least one of the stations is not susceptible to constitutional action on the basis of the state action doctrine that renders such infringements actionable only where these are caused by the state or statal entities, while the other, even if not identically immune from suit, will nevertheless be able to contend that the local freedom of expression is qualified in that “nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision that is reasonably required for regulating the administration or technical operation of telephony, telegraphy, posts, wireless broadcasting, television or other means of communication…”