Michael Jackson Is Pulled From Some Radio Setlists Amid ‘Leaving Neverland’ Uproar
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — As the release of a new documentary detailing abuse accusations against the singer Michael Jackson has prompted debate about his legacy, the public response to its contents is also leading radio stations across the globe to stop playing his music.
A radio network in Quebec pulled Jackson’s music from its nearly two dozen stations, according to The Canadian Press. In Britain, Variety reported that the BBC was forced to deny imposing such a ban after it was reported that the singer’s music had been “quietly dropped” from one of its stations.
And the backlash has led to an almost complete removal of the singer’s music from the airwaves in New Zealand, after the two largest radio networks — which own most of the country’s commercial stations — said Wednesday that they would no longer play Jackson’s songs.
In the New Zealand and Canadian cases, radio networks cited a change in public opinion about Jackson that was tied to the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” a two-part mini-series focusing on the accusations of two men who say Jackson abused them as children, as the reason for the ban. The program is scheduled for broadcast in New Zealand on Sunday and Monday.
Leon Wratt, the content director of MediaWorks, one of the New Zealand radio companies, said audiences had indicated that they no longer wanted to hear Jackson’s music.
“We aren’t deciding whether Michael Jackson is guilty of pedophilia or not,” he said in an interview on one of MediaWorks’ stations, Magic. “We’re just merely trying to make sure that our radio stations are going to play the music that people want to hear.”
Mr. Wratt added that the accusations against Jackson had been public for years — the singer was cleared of child molesting charges after a trial in 2005. But viewers have reacted with shock to the new documentary. And its subjects, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who detail disturbing accusations from their childhoods against Jackson, have received both plaudits and abuse for their part in it.
Dean Buchanan, a spokesman for NZME, the other New Zealand radio network to pull Jackson’s music, said by email that the singer’s work was not being played “right now” on the network’s stations.
The country’s national public broadcaster, Radio New Zealand — which is primarily a talk station — also said that Jackson’s music currently did not feature in its air play, although a spokesman, John Barr, said that was not the result of a particular editorial decision.
A Canadian media company, Cogeco, that told The Canadian Press it had banned Jackson’s music on its 23 stations in Quebec — including three major Montreal stations — cited the public response to “Leaving Neverland” as the reason.
Neither NZME nor MediaWorks responded to questions about how long the ban would last, what date it began, or whether the networks planned to pull the songs of other musicians accused of wrongdoing, such as R. Kelly, who has been accused of, and denies, decades of serial misconduct.
Mr. Wratt, the MediaWorks spokesman, said Jackson’s music would still be available on streaming services and in record stores for anyone who wanted to hear it.
“The difference with radio, of course, is that if we play it you don’t have a choice,” he said.
This is not the first time radio stations and streaming services have wrestled with whether to remove the music of artists accused of misconduct: Spotify last May instituted a policy of ceasing to promote or recommend R. Kelly’s music because of the accusations against him, though it rescinded the policy a month later after uproar from some in the music industry.
Jackson’s estate in February canceled the Chicago run of a new jukebox musical about the singer three weeks after the Sundance premiere of “Leaving Neverland,” and two weeks before its HBO broadcast. The producers of the musical, “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” cited scheduling difficulties caused by a labor dispute as the reason.
The estate is seeking $ 100 million in damages from HBO over the “Leaving Neverland” documentary, which Howard Weitzman, the estate’s lawyer, branded “a disgrace.”