Just a few days after HBO premiered Leaving Neverland, its documentary about Michael Jackson that details the alleged abuse of Wade Robson and James Safechuck when they were boys, some major radio networks around the globe are suspending play of his music. But other networks are refusing to make the same call or hesitating to say anything amidst the chaotic fallout.
As noted by Stereogum, The Canadian Press reported that Quebec radio network Cogeco Media has stopped playing Jackson’s music on three major Montreal stations (CKOI, Rhyme, and The Beat). Twenty-three Cogeco stations in Quebec will cease play of the artist’s songs. A Cogeco Media rep explained to Variety on Tuesday they decided to remove his music “for the time being” because, “We are attentive to the comments of our listeners, and the documentary released on Sunday evening created reactions.”
According to a Wednesday report from the New York Times, the two largest radio networks in New Zealand, MediaWorks and NZME, and the country's national public broadcaster Radio New Zealand have also opted to temporarily pause Jackson. MediaWorks content director Leon Wratt said in a interview on one of the company’s stations, “We aren’t deciding whether Michael Jackson is guilty of pedophilia or not. We’re just merely trying to make sure that our radio stations are going to play the music that people want to hear.”
But the moves by these radio companies are far from the new normal. On Monday, The Times of London claimed a BBC affiliate “quietly dropped” Jackson’s music; BBC clarified to Variety that they have no bans on Jackson’s music. “The BBC does not ban artists,” the rep told Variety. Meanwhile, Jackson supporters rallied in London Wednesday outside the headquarters of Channel 4 to oppose the station airing the documentary later Wednesday night. According to NME, they were heard chanting “innocent” and “facts don’t lie, people do,” echoing the slogans on their banner signs.
Radio networks in the U.S. have also hesitated to pull Jackson’s tunes. The second-largest American radio network, Cumulus Media, has left the decision up to its local stations. A rep told Variety, “Cumulus Media is never in favor of censorship. This is a local market decision where the company is allowing local Program Directors to make the right decision regarding airplay for their communities.” Others in the music business such as iHeartRadio, Spotify, Apple Music didn’t respond to Variety’s request for comment. Notably, Spotify implemented a short lived “Hateful Content and Conduct” policy last May to stop promoting the music of alleged abusers like R. Kelly on their playlists. That policy ended a month later after a fierce backlash followed.
As the movie continues to roll out to other countries, audiences will have to draw their own conclusions. It's too early to tell how the film will affect Jackson's legacy in the longterm. Radio stations seem to be taking their cues from their local audiences, which makes it difficult to predict where the cards will fall.
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