Radio stations pull Michael Jackson over Leaving Neverland claims
Networks in New Zealand and Canada drop singer from playlists - but BBC says it will not follow suit
Multiple radio stations around the world have announced they will no longer play music by Michael Jackson, following the release of a documentary alleging that the superstar sexually abused young boys.
Leaving Neverland, which was broadcast in the US earlier this week and airs in two parts tonight and tomorrow in the UK, features hours of testimony from James Safechuck and Wade Robson describing how they were allegedly groomed and abused by Jackson as children.
Both men became close to the Thriller singer as young boys and spent large amounts of time alone with him in hotel rooms and at his Neverland ranch in the late 1980s and 1990s.
In light of the claims, which have prompted a massive public response and a renewed debate in the media about the handling of past allegations against Jackson, radio stations across the world have decided to pull the singer’s music from their playlists.
New Zealand’s major radio networks, NZME and MediaWorks, have both said that hits like Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal and Bad will not be played on any of their stations for an unspecified period.
Leon Wratt, MediaWorks, director for radio, said in a statement that the decision was “a reflection of our audiences and their preferences” adding: “It is our job to ensure our radio stations are playing the music people want to hear.”
Since the release of the documentary, many shaken fans have “discussed feeling uncomfortable about listening to Jackson's music in the wake of the allegations”, CNN reports.
“Four major stations in Canada have also stopped playing Jackson's music, including three in Montreal and one in Quebec,” The Independent reports.
So far, no UK stations have announced that they intend to follow suit, although the BBC was forced to deny a report in The Times claiming that the broadcaster had “quietly dropped” Jackson from BBC Radio 2.
“The BBC does not ban artists,” a spokeswoman 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.”
Jackson, who died in 2009, had been accused of impropriety with children on several occasions.
In 1994, he settled out of court with the family of 13-year-old Jordan Chandler, who claimed that the star had molested the boy on visits to Neverland.
The 2003 ITV documentary Living With Michael Jackson, in which the singer told journalist Martin Bashir that he invited children to sleep in his bed, further exacerbated speculation around the singer’s predilections.
However, Jackson only appeared in criminal court once, in 2005, when a jury found him not guilty of molesting Gavin Arvizo, also 13, who said he had been plied with alcohol and abused at the isolated California ranch.
For their part, Jackson’s estate has called the new documentary a ‘public lynching’, dismissing Safechuck and Robson as opportunists. Lawyers for the estate are seeking $100m in damages from US broadcaster HBO over the documentary, says The Independent.