"You and me baby, we ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel" is a line from a song by The Bloodhound Gang played on 91 ZM on 20 November 1999 at 7.45am.
Vaughan and Diane Barrow complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, that the lyrics of the song breached current norms of decency and good taste, were harmful to children, and transgressed broadcasters’ obligation to be socially responsible.
The Radio Network considered the complaint only under the good taste standard and, noting that the song contained innuendo and double entendres, argued that such content was nevertheless the norm for music targeted at youth. It noted that the song had had heavy airplay for at least three months and that it had received no other complaint about its content. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision, Mr and Mrs Barrow referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the song and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
A song by The Bloodhound Gang was played on 91 ZM on 20 November 1999 at about 7.45am. It contained the line "You and me baby, we ain’t nothing but mammals, so let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel". It also made references, both explicit and implicit, to other sexual behaviour.
Mr and Mrs Barrow complained to The Radio Network that the song breached current norms of decency and good taste. They argued that encouraging humans to act like mammals was socially irresponsible and created a number of social problems. In addition, they complained that the song was broadcast at a time when children would be likely to be listening. As a further argument, they contended that copying animal behaviour contravened the Bill of Rights and law and order because the social systems upon which animal lives were structured were very different from human social systems which favoured long term monogamous relationships. They also argued that the song "denigrates the sexual act of humans to that of mammals of homosexual orientation". As a final point, they suggested that the song was an infomercial for the Discovery Channel and pay television, and they did not believe that this was made sufficiently clear to listeners.
In its response, The Radio Network advised that it was only prepared to consider the complaint under Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which provides:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
1a Broadcasters will take into consideration current norms of decency and good taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast eg time of day, target audience.
It acknowledged that the song did contain the innuendo and double entendres complained about, but noted that this was the norm for music targeted at a youth audience. It advised that The Bloodhound Gang song had had heavy airplay for at least three months, and was one of the biggest current hits. Despite the heavy airplay, it observed that this had been the only complaint it had received. It declined to uphold the complaint.
Mr and Mrs Barrow sought a review of this decision by the Authority. They maintained that the lack of complaints did not justify the flouting of standards by the broadcaster. It was not uncommon for youth to push boundaries, they observed, but they suggested it then became difficult for them to recognise normal behaviour.
When the matter was referred to The Radio Network, it advised that it had no further comment to make.
In a final comment to the Authority, Mr and Mrs Barrow emphasised that it was time the advertising and entertainment industries acknowledged the power of the media on young people’s lives. They suggested that for the sake of a better society the song should no longer be played. They concluded:
Let us not abuse our youth for personal gain but listen to what we are making them.
The complainants objected to what they considered were sexually suggestive lyrics, which they considered promoted offensive behaviour and were unsuitable for broadcast when children were listening. They also objected to human behaviour being regarded as similar to that of animals, an analogy which they found discriminatory. The song, they said, breached a number of broadcasting standards. The broadcaster was prepared to consider the complaint only under principle 1. In the Authority’s view, the complaint should also have been considered under principle 7, which reads:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
7b Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.
The Authority turns first to the complaint under Principle 1. When it deals with complaints alleging a breach of the good taste and decency requirement, the Authority is bound to take into consideration the context in which the language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast. On this occasion, the relevant contextual factors include the hour of the broadcast, the type of station, and that the words complained about were heard in a popular song.
Dealing with the contextual matters first, the Authority notes that the song was played at 7.45am on a music station which is targeted at a youth audience, and that it had had "heavy air-play". Having listened to the lyrics, the Authority is not convinced that they exceed norms of decency and good taste in that context. First, the words were not always distinct, particularly on a first hearing, and secondly, there were two levels of meaning which were open to interpretation by the listener.
Next, it turns to the complaint that the song was unsuitable for broadcast when children were listening. It declines to uphold the complaint under this standard also, for the reasons articulated above.
As a final point, the Authority records that although it has confined its written decision on the complaint to Principles 1 and 7, it has taken into account all the matters raised by the complainants when reaching its decision, to the extent they involve issues of broadcasting standards.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
14 February 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered when the Authority determined this complaint:
1. Vaughan and Diane Barrow’s Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – 24 November 1999
2. The Radio Network’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 1 December 1999
3. Mr and Mrs Barrow’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority
– 7 December 1999
4. The Radio Network’s Response to the Authority – 16 December 1999
5. Mr and Mrs Barrow’s Final Comment – 6 January 2000