Two recent moments in which performers stepped outside acceptable public standards:

1. On the ABC The Chaser team produce a sketch using the tragedy of terminally ill children to make a vague and poorly executed point about … well, that remains unclear. No genuinely sick children were harmed in the production of the sketch.

2. On 2DayFM Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O attack a 14-year-old girl to a lie detector in a live, nationally syndicated morning radio segment and allow her mother to quiz her on her sexual history. This should have been sufficiently appalling, but things, as we know, went downhill from there.

The response to both incidents has been instructive. In one case, executives in the offending broadcaster acted quickly to discipline those involved — in what was essentially nothing more than a lapse in taste and good judgment — and pull the guilty performers off air. In the other case, a tabloid fury has erupted that has done as much to enhance the celebrity of the participants as it has to condemn possibly one of the most egregious and humiliating exploitations of a child for commercial advantage that one might imagine.

The question is what can be done? The website of the radio station has filled with messages of support:

Kyle and Jackie O

I listen to your show every day, I was listening yesterday and I will continue to listen in the future but if you don’t stop going on about yesterday I am going to turn the radio off! Stop justifying yourselves, you did nothing wrong! This goes to show just how much the media blows everything out of proportion. It is so obvious to me that the comments made yesterday by the girl were a shock to you both and it was also obvious how regretful you both were that it ended up on air. Now PLEASE get on with the show 🙂

Kyle Sandilands appears more shocked by the reaction than apologetic for what amounts to something close to nationally broadcast child abuse. Anyway, “rape happens”.

In Australia, the holder of the broadcasting licence is the party subject to the regulations that govern the industry, not the individual broadcaster. Austereo — the employer of Sandilands and O — will presumably exploit every wrinkle of the natural justice provisions of the Broadcasting Services Act to prolong whatever interaction they may eventually have with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, actions that will probably involve little more than a long-delayed flogging with limp lettuce.

In the meantime, it’s easy to imagine that the broadcaster, its advertisers and its boorish “personalities” will be celebrating all the attention. They may even turn it to profit.

Media regulation is complex. It should not veer to the censorious, but clearly its reliance on broadcasters to impose reasonable standards on their performers is an expectation that is at best unevenly applied.