Rage Against the Machine on 5 Live Breakfast

BBC Radio 5 Live

You may have heard about the incident on 5 Live which happened earlier in the week, when Rage Against the Machine performed on the Breakfast Show, and swore live on air.

After the incident, presenter Shelagh Fogarty was heard saying “Get rid of it”, before telling listeners to “buy Joe’s records”. In addition, the BBC apologised on Thursday afternoon.

It seems that 5 Live’s listeners have the maturity to see the funny side of the incident and not get offended by the bad language. In fact, many seem more offended that the track was faded out following the inclusion of the word “F***” four times during the performance. I think the commenters are being a bit unreasonable here.

On the 5 Live blog (linked to above), I saw the following complaints:

I was highly offended when the BBC distorted the central message of “Killing in the Name” by asking the band to sing a Bowdlerised version of it, and then compounded the error by cutting them off when de la Rocha (rightly) re-inserted the essential lines, before one of your presenters called on listeners to similarly avoid ever hearing anything challenging by buying the X-Factor record instead.

I appreciate that gratuitous swearing can cause offence, but this is a perfect example of a case where it is a key part of a piece of work that is simply ineffective without it; what makes this song an appropriate choice as a protest vote against the X-Factor is precisely the way the key line “F–k you, I won’t do what you tell me” is repeated 16 times, the first 8 in a tone of building, seething resentment, then the last 8 in one of unfettered, vindicated rage – an appropriate metaphor for how many people feel about putting up with the saturation coverage of the X-Factor and the like. While the band went along with your censorship for the first (resentment) part, they could not possibly have done likewise for the (rage) climax without utterly compromising everything it and they stand for.

If, despite this, you were still cowardly enough to insist that the full version was inappropriate for that particular show’s audience, then the band should have been invited to appear on a different show instead.

The video version of the recording which appeared on the 5Live website was even worse – here the defence that listeners were unprepared for it does not apply – in fact it was the controversial content that was the key feature advertised in the frontpage links leading to it. But why put a warning for bad language next to a clip, and then bleep out all occurences of it? (even going so far as to distort hand signals made by the singer) The warning should suffice – have some respect for the intelligence of your audience and let them view the (complete) performance as it was intended.

Quoted from Commenter pqg

If a bit of swearing, which is integral to the impact of the song, offends her so much, perhaps she should get a job on an inane pop programme on commercial radio. It appears that cutting edge broadcasting is dead at the BBC.

Quoted from Commenter boozey_the_hound

An amazing performance and an absolutely relevant message. It’s a shame the female host felt so embarrassed by human expression she found it necessary to cut it short and make an embarrassing quip to buy the other xmas single

Quoted from Commenter killianH

These commenters on the 5 Live blog all have very valid points – they have the maturity to recognise that swearing is not something to get childish about and they know that Shelagh has told people to buy Joe McElderry’s records.

However, they all fail to realise that the decision to cut short the interview following the incident was necessary. Its not a case of “this is the BBC and we don’t like swearing”; its part of the OfCom broadcasting regulations which all radio stations are required to follow by LAW, and the chances are that Shelagh herself was not offended by it – she was just doing her duty to make sure that 5 Live did not break any laws. What you must remember is that this is a breakfast show, broadcast at a time when young children were likely to be listening on their way to school.

In addition, what caused Shelagh to tell 5 Live listeners to buy Joe’s records is the fact that she panicked as soon as she realised what was being broadcast. Any radio personality would do so in a situation where one of the worst words to say on radio has been broadcast 4 times. Unlike in television, swearing is still very frowned upon and OfCom can and will fine radio stations who do nothing in such a situation.

Were you listening to 5 Live on Thursday morning? What did you think of the incident? Leave your comments below, or e-mail me on admin@fred-hart.co.uk.

The image used was created by Flickr user radiothings.com and has been used under a Creative Commons license.

Fred Hart

Stock Controller and Radio Presenter/Producer

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