So I guess that’s it. Free speech is dead. With the hysterical, puritanical, nauseatingly self-righteous reaction to Kyle and Jackie O’s innocent miscalculation, the principles of freedom and democracy that have propped up this sagging hulk called Australia for so many decades have finally given way, and we may as well all pack up and go home and wait to be annexed by China.

Look, nobody is saying that what happened on the Kyle and Jackie O show, when they hooked a 14-year-old up to a lie detector, encouraged her mother to grill her about her sex life, uncovered a history of child rape, and then — quite reasonably, given the girl’s vague and incomplete answer — pressed her for further details, was a “good thing”. Nobody is saying it was “positive”, or “life-affirming”, or “indicative of a regard for basic human decency”. Nobody is saying any of these things. But why the vitriol? Why the moral panic? Why the relentlessly vicious attacks on poor Kyle Sandilands?

After all, what has he done, really? Has he killed anyone? Has he robbed a service station? Has he beaten up an Indian? Has he forced a young girl to relive the most traumatic experience of her life on live radio? Well, yes, and obviously exculpatory hypotheticals can only go so far.

The point is, if we are going to regard ourselves as a civilised society, then we should be embracing the sort of trenchant, witty, socially relevant entertainment that Kyle and Jackie O provide. Kyle and Jackie O are holding up a mirror. As Kyle says, “rape happens”. What good does it do to sweep it under the carpet? Once upon a time we didn’t talk about rape. We pretended it didn’t happen. We allowed a shameful culture of denial that meant that all those poor girls who suffered this heinous crime and wanted nothing more than to tell their story while attached to a polygraph and being harassed by their own mother on a nationally broadcast breakfast program were forced to suffer in silence. If only we had Kyle Sandilands back then, how different our society might have been. The mind, frankly, boggles.

And it’s not as if they meant this to happen. Kyle and Jackie O aren’t psychic. They can’t be expected to anticipate every possible outcome. There is no way to foresee something so out of the ordinary as a commercial radio stunt ending in humiliation and trauma. If we start second-guessing such things, we’ll just end up not having any commercial radio stunts at all. Is that a world you want to live in? I sure as hell don’t.

And yet apparently that’s exactly what a lot of people do want. People like Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who claims the jocks should have considered the girl’s welfare. This is professional showbusiness , Julia. These people have a responsibility to bring joy and laughter to the lives of millions every day, they don’t have time to go running around worrying about politically correct this and culturally sensitive that and avoidance of breathtakingly emotionally damaging the other.

And of course Tim Costello has had a go. Don’t take your unresolved sibling-envy out on these simple radio folk, Tim. Isn’t it enough you’re trying to destroy the pleasure of thousands of Australian pokie-players?

As Kyle himself said, it is a shame the media is “using the rape of a 12-year-old to have a go at me”. Indeed, just where do the media draw the line? They probably planned this from the beginning. That they would engineer this scandal — setting up the rape of a 12-year-old two years ago, lobbying Austereo management to initiate the lie detector segment, spending years coaching the girl’s mother in how to be a terrible parent; hell, it was probably the media that fed Kyle’s mother the excessive doses of powerful painkillers during her pregnancy to ensure he would turn out this way — says a lot about the media’s lack of shame and decency and interesting hobbies.

So yeah, you can criticise Kyle Sandilands. You can call him crude. You can call him immoral. You can call him vacuous. You can call him a talentless pudding with creepy dead goat eyes who looks like someone’s been rubbing a balloon on his head. But when he sits down beside his lovable, halfwitted sidekick, and turns on that mic, the result is pure entertainment . And in these grim times, isn’t that what we need? Don’t we all need some escapism, some laughter, some — for want of a better word — teenage rape confessions in our lives? Maybe if, instead of judging and moralising and tut-tutting, we encouraged those with big dreams, with artistic souls, with creative visions based on originality and innovation and the revelation of the intimate sexual secrets of children, we could all live in a happier, more harmonious world.

I’m praying for it. With Kyle and Jackie O’s help, we just might get there.

Peter Fray

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