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TV & Radio

Mar 27, 2012

Sandilands and the 'fat slag' -- vitriol, but not incitement

ACMA is proposing an additional condition on 2DAY-FM’s broadcast licence ... Another slap with a wet lettuce from our lofty regulator of the electronic media, writes David Salter, veteran journalist and former Media Watch executive producer.


There must be a small clique of investigators in the Australian Communications and Media Authority who give quiet thanks in their evening prayers to the Sydney radio controversialist Kyle Sandilands. Complaints against his daily 2Day FM program, the Kyle & Jackie O Show, must just about keep them in continuous employment.

There have been six separate ACMA investigations of the program under the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice since April 2009, the last of which resulted in this morning’s finding that the station had broadcast comments by Sandilands that were “deeply derogatory and offensive”, and that 2DAY was therefore in breach of the code. (Under the Act, the media authority only has the power to find against the station licensee, Southern Cross Austereo, not the person whose words prompted the initial complaint.)

There was little doubt ACMA would agree that Sandilands’ on-air comments on November 22 last year were in breach. It was toe-turning stuff. After a News Limited online journalist, Alison Stephenson, had written critically about his failed foray into television, Sandilands first called her a “fat slag”, a “bullshit artist”, a “little troll” and a “piece of shit”. He then went on to criticise her hair, clothes and bre-sts, and to tell Stephenson that “you should be fired from your job”. Why the producer of the program failed to use his 10-second delay facility to crash out of this tirade remains a mystery.

But it’s not the repulsiveness of the offence itself that should interest us here. Sandilands is a blatant self-publicist who courts controversy through deliberate acts of outrage. The more important issues are in the detail of ACMA’s findings, and the surprisingly mild corrective measures they intend to impose.

In announcing their decision the chairman of the authority, Chris Chapman, confirmed that Sandilands’ comments had been “unacceptable”, “gratuitous” and were delivered with “vitriol”. Further, ACMA found his on-air rant breached the code of conduct by offending against “generally accepted standards of decency”.

There are additional guidelines to the code, which require licensees to “avoid the use of overt s-xual references in relation to a woman’s physical characteristics” and not to broadcast material “which condones or incites violence against women”. Yet in their finest flogged-with-a-feather style, the authority today managed to find that Sandilands had not breached this provision because “although the comments conveyed hatred, serious contempt and severe ridicule on the grounds of gender, they were not considered to ‘incite’ those feelings in others”. Lawyers like to find these nice little distinctions.

So what punishments are Sandilands and Southern Cross Austereo likely to suffer? Are you sitting down? ACMA is proposing an additional condition on 2Day FM’s broadcast licence. Oh, the horror! Another slap with a wet lettuce from our lofty regulator of the electronic media. The authority has merely notified the station of its intention to tack a few lame paragraphs onto its current licence that waffle about not demeaning women, placing undue emphasis on gender and the use of overt s-xual references. In addition, 2Day must implement a training program for staff and contractors in relation to these proposed conditions.

Management must be quaking in their snakeskin boots.

It’s understandable that with media regulation such a prominent public concern at the moment (Finkelstein, the Convergence Review), ACMA might have chosen to tread on eggshells as it inched towards its response to the Sandilands outrage. And we should note that only four months, including the Christmas/New Year break, have passed between the complaint and the finding — an admirable turn of speed from the authority.

But rarely will Chapman and his staff be presented with such a clear-cut opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to use ACMA’s legal armoury to stomp on such unacceptable behaviour by a broadcaster. They have the power to suspend or cancel a licence. Instead, they drafted a pallid new subsection of the Broadcasting Services Act.

And what has been the response from 2Day? Its CEO, Rhys Holleran, has dismissed the proposed extra conditions as “ambiguous” and “unworkable”. But they’ve indicated to ACMA that the station will introduce several “safeguards”, including extending the broadcast delay on the Kyle & Jackie O program from 10 to 30 seconds, installing a warning light in their studios to notify announcers when content “may be of concern”, and telling Sandilands and his management about “the sort of remarks that are unacceptable”.

Behold the wonders of light touch media regulation.


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14 thoughts on “Sandilands and the ‘fat slag’ — vitriol, but not incitement

  1. Fred Jansohn

    I just wondered whether other than the ACMA anyone is listening to this pre-neanderthal numbskull and, if so, why?

  2. paddy

    Goodness, it would have been fun to watch if ACMA had turned on the blowtorch for even a just few hours.
    Imagine the *squeals* if they’d actually fired a real shot and said.
    “2DayFM. You’re off the air for 12 hours. Next time it’s 24. Then it will be a week”

  3. klewso

    Why doesn’t ACMA look at the vitriol used in the rest of the amassed media, to denigrate Gillard?

  4. tom.burton

    This article contains serious errors about the ACMA, its findings in this matter and its powers.
    The Authority found that the licensee 2Day FM breached the decency provisions of the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice. The article suggests the Authority thereby acquired the power to suspend or cancel 2Day FM’s broadcasting licence. That is a serious misrepresentation of the matter. The ACMA had no such power in this case.
    That power to suspend or cancel may arise from a breach of a licence condition, but no licence condition was breached or alleged to have been breached in this matter. Power to suspend or cancel a licence does not arise from a breach of a Code of Practice, and that is what this case concerned.
    As Chris Chapman said in his press conference this morning, in proposing to impose a licence condition the ACMA is proposing to take the strongest possible action that is available to it under the law. The ACMA obviously must operate within the bounds of the law and simply can’t exercise powers that do not exist.

    Tom Burton, Executive Manager Media and Communications, ACMA

  5. Andybob

    Gosh Tom, and there I was thinking ACMA was a toothless tiger.

  6. Michael de Angelos

    I don’t know which is worse-our so-called regulators or the yobs that listen to these dills who are on the whole, just boring.

  7. paddy

    @TomBurton Thanks for the clarification.
    However, I’m still a tad confused.
    By proposing to impose a license condition on 2Day FM, does this mean that if he, (Kyle) should re-offend, that ACMA could impose harsher penalties on 2Day FM?
    Such as suspension or cancellation of their license?

  8. AR

    As with the witless who read Mudorc’s dead tree tabloids or watch ACA & TT, or morning TV, it is a sad fact that Demos is easily manipulated, even to its own disadvantage by loud/shiny things and trivial, not to say, destructive opinions.
    PT Barnum, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove and the creatures of Sussex St & Menzies House use this weakness to the detriment of our common weal.

  9. c d

    I still don’t see the problem. It was a News Ltd ‘journalist’ he abused, it’s not like a real person was harmed.

  10. beachcomber

    I thought Kyle Sandilands WAS the fat slag

  11. Liamj

    Thanks Tom Burton for clarification. It highlights the piss-weakness in ACMA’s powers, imagine if the AFL match review panel had as little power over high tackles. But then, i suppose a footballer is a commercial asset, and a female reporters reputation is utterly disposable? Just so we know our priorities.

  12. gerard

    If more of us had our priorities right, we would all be asking; who is Kyle Sandilands?

  13. Liz45

    @TOM BURTON – So Tom, who does have the power in this sort of incident? Nobody? I wish they’d done what PADDY suggested. Take them off air. I read an article at the weekend, where Jacki O said that ‘he’s lovely with women’? I notice when they replayed his comments, that Jacki O was laughing in the background. In my view she’s as bad as he is. Worse in fact. I’m tougher on women who sell out other women! She’s a disgrace!

    I won’t listen to either of them, nor will I watch any TV show that he’s a part of – even if it might be entertaining! Can’t stand looking at him! Not surprised his marriage failed – he’s a misogynist, and I suspect that anything “lovely” he says about women is not genuine! He has a real problem!

  14. klewso

    Is Kyle getting his own show “The Lowest Common Denominator”?


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