Three major radio stations in Montreal have pulled Michael Jackson’s music from airplay in the wake of the blockbuster HBO documentary “Leaving Neverland,” in which two men accuse the late singer of sexually abusing them when they were children. The news was first reported in The Canadian Press.
“We are attentive to the comments of our listeners, and the documentary released on Sunday evening created reactions,” a spokesperson for Cogeco Media, which owns the three stations — CKOI, Rythme and The Beat — told Variety on Tuesday. “We prefer to observe the situation by removing the songs from our stations, for the time being.”
She noted that the decision extends to Cogeco stations in smaller markets in Quebec.
At press time Cogeco was the only company to make such a move. “We currently have no plans to pull the songs but are monitoring the situation closely,” a spokesman for Corus Radio said in an email to The Canadian Press on Sunday; that rep did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment.
While reports emerged over the weekend that England’s BBC2 had “quietly” removed Jackson’s music from its playlists, a rep told Variety Monday that was untrue. “The BBC does not ban artists,” the rep said. “We consider each piece of music on its merits and decisions on what we play on different networks are always made with relevant audiences and context in mind.”
In the U.S., the second-largest radio network, Cumulus, deferred any such decision to individual stations. “Cumulus Media is never in favor of censorship,” the rep said. “This is a local market decision where the company is allowing local Program Directors to make the right decision regarding airplay for their communities.” A rep for iHeartRadio, the country’s largest radio network, declined Variety‘s request for comment; the same is true of Spotify and Apple Music, the two largest streaming services in the U.S.
The lack of comment is possibly related in part to the fierce wave of criticism Spotify received when it instituted a policy against “hateful conduct” by artists last year, in which artists would be banned from its official playlists. That policy was directed at R. Kelly and XXXTentacion — neither of whom had been convicted of any crimes at the time — before the streaming service quickly pulled back from the policy, although Kelly’s music does not appear to have returned to official Spotify playlists.