It’s the electronic media’s new Code Of Contrition. After grossly offending the nation’s sensibilities, you must suspend yourself for two weeks, stay silent while the rest of the media takes aim, apologise fulsomely and promise your processes are fixed so that it will never happen again.

Kyle and Jackie O followed the Chaser script to the letter this morning as they returned to air on 2Day FM, following their spectacularly ill-conceived lie detector test, which offended pretty well everyone with ears.

“We have had time to reflect on it and it’s pretty obvious the whole thing was a disaster from start to finish,” offered Kyle Sandilands.

“I think everyone on the show has learned from this mistake and we’re sincerely sorry and we’ve put everything in place now that we’re confident it won’t happen again,” added Jackie Henderson.

Sandilands and Henderson momentarily strayed from the script, quibbling about news reports about a recent on-air fundraiser for a child with brain injuries, in which only about a third of the $150,000 pledged was actually donated.

While the chastened Kyle and Jackie O are back, two inquiries into the incident are taking place. Firstly, all of the complaints received by the radio station itself and by the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be adjudicated by 2Day FM’s owners, Austereo. If — and only if — any of the complainants are unhappy with the outcome, ACMA will conduct an investigation into the incident and the station’s response.

ACMA has referred at least 137 complaints to 2Day FM. Austereo has received many more, although by today’s deadline it did not say how many.

At the same time ACMA is conducting a broader inquiry into the commercial radio industry’s standards. It has promised to wade through the various laws and codes of practice governing on-air shenanigans in the form of “stunts, pranks, competitions and challenges” to assess whether radio networks are complying with community standards. It has asked for submissions from industry and public groups.

It is likely to investigate Kyle and Jackie O‘s recent on-air challenge involving a woman begging to be allowed to stay in the country to visit her loved ones. This exercise in ritual sadism was highlighted in a recent episode of Media Watch.

Although any disinterested observer would have to conclude that stunt was a disgrace, it is unlikely that the ACMA review will result in any more than a tweaking of the industry’s standards. Unless 2Day FM grossly mishandles its many complaints, it has very little to fear from the regulators. Only 2Day FM’s audiences, and ultimately its advertisers, have any real power to raise its standards.

Peter Fray

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