Companies Behind 300 Canadian Radio Stations Consider Dropping Michael Jackson's Music
"Our decision for the time being is to make no firm decision," says an executive with Stingray
Three Canadian radio stations have pulled Michael Jackson's songs following the release of HBO's documentary Leaving Neverland last weekend, but hundreds more have not. Billboard reached out to executives at five of the major broadcast groups and, as of Thursday (March 7), none have made plans to stop playing the late singer's music.
All said they are monitoring the situation and listening to their audience. Those reached by Billboard include Bell Media, Rogers Radio, Stingray, Jim Pattison Broadcast Group and Corus Radio.
The three stations in Quebec -- all owned by Cogeco Media, which operates 23 stations in all -- began removing Jackson's songs from its playlist on Monday in response to allegations of child molestation raised in the four-hour, two-part documentary that started airing on Sunday night.
Naturally, not all of Cogeco' stations, or the other companies', are programed to play Jackson's music. Still, if public outrage builds, the industry could be pressured into taking a stand.
"We will continue to monitor the MJ trending news and public response to it on a daily basis," Ross Winters, director of programming at Jim Pattison Broadcast Group told Billboard in an email. "At this point there are no plans to remove any MJ titles from our station playlists." Pattison has 47 stations but as, Winters said, "don't have a ton," citing a few examples of ones that do: 99.3 DRIVE in Prince George, British Columbia; Up 99.3 in Edmonton, Alberta; and 103.1 Beach in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Similarly, spokespersons from Bell Media, Rogers Radio and Corus Radio all said they were "assessing," "evaluating" and "monitoring" the situation, respectively.
While Stingray has, in the past, dropped the music of Gary Glitter, R. Kelly and Hedley over sexual assault allegations, Steve Jones, senior vp brands & content, radio, told Billboard the company's corporate programming team had decided to keep Jackson on the air for now.
"We have been monitoring all of this very carefully," he said. "While the allegations are not new, they have been brought to the forefront in a very powerful way that has forced all of us think carefully about the message we send when we play his music. Are we subtly condoning or perhaps normalizing extremely reprehensible actions? We would never want to do that. We do not take dropping an artist's music lightly, as it sends a strong message about judgement and implied guilt."
Jones followed up later, telling Billboard, "Our decision for the time being is to make no firm decision. We are not going to stop playing Michael Jackson music at this point. But at the same time, we may consider taking that step in the future. For now, our plan is to continue to have dialogue with our listeners about this, monitor the public sentiment towards Michael Jackson's music and image, and evaluate our plan on a constant basis as we have been.
"These allegations are horrific. I have seen the documentary and, particularly as the father of two boys, I was sickened. However, as disgusting as they are, these remain accusations and they remain unproven. Despite the graphic nature of the accusations and the impact that Leaving Neverland has had on people, the allegations are not new. Michael Jackson was acquitted in 2005 of similar charges. We feel it isn't fair to ignore those facts.
"I don't know how this will play out. We are watching closely and monitoring the opinion of our listeners, and our plan is to abide by the wishes of our audience. In the absence of a judge and jury to these charges, we feel following their lead is the best option right now. This is an extremely difficult line to walk, and all of this is very complicated from a media perspective."
Stingray stations that play Jackson include Boom 97.3 in Toronto; XL 103 in Calgary, Alberta; 96.3 The Breeze Edmonton, 104.3 The Breeze in Vancouver, British Columbia; and 96.5 The Breeze in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
A spokesperson for Bell Media -- which owns iHeartRadio Canada and 109 radio stations, including Ontario's 105.7 EZ Rock in St. Catharines and Majic 100.3 in Ottawa -- said in a statement, "With respect to Michael Jackson -- we are assessing the situation."
A spokesperson for Rogers Radio -- which operates 54 stations, including 98.1 CHFI and KISS 92.5 in Toronto -- told Billboard, "There are no changes at this time, and we continue to evaluate the situation."
A spokesperson for Corus Radio -- which has 39 stations, including Ontario's 103.1 Fresh Radio in London and Boom 99.7 in Ottawa -- said in a statement, "We currently have no plans to pull the songs but are monitoring the situation closely.”