Only in the enfeebled, law-bound fantasy land of Australian media regulation could the governing statutory authority and an offending radio network get themselves into such a silly squabble over what are acceptable standards of decency.

After repeated breaches by Sydney’s 2Day FM jock Kyle Sandilands, the Australian Communications and Media Authority yesterday ruled that it will impose a five-year condition on the station’s licence requiring it to adhere to the same decency standards it should have already been observing as part of the industry’s own voluntary code of practice. The authority chairman, Chris Chapman, explained that this was “the toughest position that could be imposed on the licensee concerning matters of decency”. That’ll show ’em!

The condition will apply to the corporate broadcast licence holder, Southern Cross Austereo, rather than any of its individual employees. No specific action will be taken by ACMA to restrain Sandilands who, in an on-air rant last November, described a woman journalist as a “fat slag” and “piece of shit”, and denigrated her personal appearance.

From the time ACMA foreshadowed its general intentions two months ago, Southern Cross has fought the proposed “derogatory remarks” condition, arguing that its phrasing was vague, and that the whole process is subjective and unenforceable. They are now expected to challenge the ruling in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. We should prepare ourselves for the diverting spectacle of opposing learned counsel debating to what precise extent, if at all, it offends general standards of decency to call someone a “fat slag” on morning radio.

ACMA is understandably reluctant to take strong proscriptive action that might crumble under legislative assault. But the result of that caution — and the ingrained commercial truculence of stations such as 2Day FM — is a ridiculous stand-off. On the one hand we have a government authority attempting to set regulatory standards of decency; on the other a broadcast licence holder fighting for the right to be offensively sexist.