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Rinse FM sanctioned by OfCom for playing Jay Electronica track with anti-semitic lyrics

By | Published on Tuesday 8 March 2022

Rinse FM

UK media regulator OfCom has upheld a ruling it made last year against London radio station Rinse FM over the airing of the Jay Electronica track ‘Better In Tune With The Infinite’ – although it has decided not to fine or shorten the licence of the community station, both sanctions available to the regulator. Instead Rinse FM will be obliged to broadcast a statement about the ruling.

Jay Electronica has been accused of including anti-semitic lyrics in his music in the past – and that includes some of the lines in 2014 track ‘Better In Tune With The Infinite’, which Rinse FM played in July 2020.

The track includes the lyrics: “The synagogues of Satan might accuse or jail me; Strip, crown, nail me, brimstone hail me; They might defeat the flesh but they could never ever kill me; They might can feel the music but could never ever feel me; To the lawyers, to the sheriffs, to the judges; To the debt holders and the law makers; Fuck you, sue me, bill me”.

Rinse FM played an edit of the track which had the swear word bleeped out, but the rest of the lyrics were unedited and were aired without comment. As a result, OfCom concluded, “these lyrics would have been understood by some listeners as suggesting that Jewish people are evil or worship the devil” and they “characterised Jewish people and Judaism in a negative and stereotypical light”.

Going into more detail, OfCom also said: “The phrase ‘synagogues of Satan’ … made an explicit association between Jewish places of worship and Satan, and therefore was likely to have been understood by UK listeners as suggesting that Jewish people are evil or worship the devil”.

“The lyrics which followed – ‘Strip, crown, nail me, brimstone hail me’ – when juxtaposed with the reference to ‘synagogues of Satan'”, it added, “may have evoked for UK listeners the antisemitic allegation that Jewish people are collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ”.

And finally: “In the context of the above lyrics, the lyrics, ‘To the lawyers, to the sheriffs, to the judges; To the debt holders and the law makers’, whom the artist addresses with ‘[Bleep] you, sue me, bill me’, may have been interpreted by some UK listeners as evoking a common derogatory stereotype about Jewish people being disproportionately in control of businesses, economic systems and other influential institutions”.

With all that in mind, OfCom said, by playing the track without edits or comment Rinse FM had aired content that “contained uncontextualised hate speech, and derogatory and abusive treatment towards Jewish people, and was therefore also potentially offensive and not sufficiently justified by the context”. All of which meant the station had breached OfCom rules.

For its part, Rinse FM countered that the Jay Electronica lyrics were open to interpretation. In its report, OfCom said: “Rinse FM and the presenter argued that the lyrics ‘synagogues of Satan’ were drawn from the Bible and therefore they contained no ‘negative connotations towards Jewish people or any particular religion’. However, OfCom considered that it was unlikely that UK listeners would be familiar with this context and that the programme did not explain it”.

“We also considered that the phrase ‘synagogue of Satan’ has often been taken out of its original Biblical context and used as a form of abuse of Jewish people and Judaism”, it went on. “We therefore did not accept that the Biblical origins of the phrase would mitigate the antisemitic content included in the lyrics”.

“Rinse FM also argued that the lyrics were a metaphor for the artist expressing his ‘struggles’ and personal challenges in his life and career in the music industry”, the OfCom report added. “While OfCom accepted that the lyrics supported this possible interpretation and that a personal account of struggle is a legitimate subject for the artist’s creative expression, we did not consider that it would have mitigated the antisemitic content in the lyrics”.

OfCom made its initial decision regarding Rinse FM’s airing of ‘Better In Tune With The Infinite’ last July. Then in October, Rinse FM said that it didn’t feel it had been able to properly represent its arguments regarding its playing of the track because OfCom’s investigation “had not had sufficient regard for the size and scale of Rinse FM’s operations and the resources available to it to defend its position, which it said were not comparable to those of larger licensees, particularly in light of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic”.

However, in its new ruling, OfCom rejects that argument. “We consider that Rinse FM was treated fairly during the investigation process and in line with OfCom’s procedures for investigating breaches of content standards for television and radio. During the investigation process, the licensee made representations in response to OfCom’s request for formal comments [and] it was given the opportunity to respond to OfCom’s preliminary view on the breaches”.

All that said, despite standing by its investigative process and upholding last year’s decision that Rinse FM breached broadcasting rules by playing ‘Better In Tune With The Infinite’, the regulator has decided against the more severe sanctions it can instigate in such scenarios.

That is partly because Rinse FM is a smaller community station with limited resources, but also because of commitments it has made to ensure such breaches do not happen again, and because the regulator conceded that this particular breach – although serious – was not “reckless, deliberate or repeated”.

Therefore, OfCom concluded: “Having considered the representations made to us, OfCom has decided to direct the licensee to broadcast a statement of OfCom’s findings on a date and in a form to be determined by OfCom”.