As the employers of shock jock Kyle Sandilands wait to learn if the latest penalty from the media regulator will stick, the stunningly honest testimony of 2Day FM’s general manager reveals the station’s hope for business as usual — even if it is offensive.
Being in hot water isn’t a new experience for 2Day. An employee charged with monitoring The Kyle and Jackie O Show for offensive comments and armed with a 10-second delay button to stop the broadcast if necessary, was in the studio last November when Sandilands called a female journalist, who had given a poor review of a TV show he starred in, a “piece of shit” and a “fat slag” who he would “hunt down” if she didn’t “watch her mouth”.
As station management is well aware, Sandilands’ outburst triggered many complaints and caused the Australian Communications and Media Authority to impose a five-year broadcasting licence condition that all of the station’s programs meet industry standards of decency. This is not the first time ACMA has slapped an additional condition on 2Day’s licence, but it is the first time one lasting for five years has been imposed on any broadcaster.
The station, which is appealing ACMA’s decision, had its day in court last week. General manager Jeremy Simpson told the Administrative Appeals Tribunal the new licence condition means “we need only one more slip up” for the station to be in real danger of losing its broadcasting licence.
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But despite this fear, Simpson showed no real concern why in-house measures to stop Sandilands from going too far have failed. When asked by ACMA’s counsel Richard Lancaster if he has ever asked staff why the delay button was not pushed during Sandilands rant last year, Simpson admitted he hasn’t. When asked if any inquiry whatsoever had ever been made, Simpson calmly answered he “was not aware” of any.
Simpson’s apparent incomprehension that there was anything wrong with that is revealing, but it doesn’t stop there.
The station has already begun a program of training focused on the commercial radio code of practice for all employees involved in the preparation and presentation of programs, training that Sandilands and his co-host Jackie Henderson, known as Jackie O, have completed. However, there is evidence suggesting the session attended by Sandilands and Henderson only lasted 15 minutes.
When faced with this evidence, senior legal counsel for Southern Cross Austereo Julian Zmood, who oversaw the training sessions, countered by claiming Sandilands’ and Henderson’s session may have been scheduled for as long as half an hour. It appears Sandilands took the session as an opportunity to ask whether he would be able to use the word “bullshit” on air and whether management consider such training “a one-off for the moment”.
There is no way station management is unaware of how loathed Sandilands is by the public, who recently voted him Australia’s most disliked media personality. But people love to hate him, so Kyle Sandilands is a ratings king. The audience for the Kyle and Jackie O Show has grown since the latest outrage, with Nielsen figures in June showing the show remaining second only to Alan Jones’ program on 2GB in terms of Sydney’s breakfast radio audience. The program is syndicated throughout Australia.
Despite hatred of Sandilands being intense enough to inspire a “Sack Vile Kyle” campaign, the commercial reality is his broadcasts play a large role in 2Day FM having more than 9% of the overall Sydney radio market (again, second only to 2GB at just under 15%).
Three years ago, the infamous broadcast of Sandilands asking a 14-year-old girl, who had just revealed that she had been r-ped as a 12-year-old, whether she had any other s-xual experience resulted in ACMA slapping a three-year condition on the station’s broadcasting licence. The incident at the centre of the current appeal occurred before that particular licence condition had time to expire. Since then, Sandilands’ has also drawn criticism for his on-air description a deformed Indian child as a “spider baby”.
When asked during the hearing whether he had seen key compliance documents created in response to the 2009 child r-pe chat incident, Simpson said, “Not specifically, I don’t think I have”, adding: “I’m sure if they exist I could find them.”
This year, as in years past, many sponsors and advertisers of the Kyle and Jackie O Show have loudly announced how appalled they are at Sandilands’ on-air comments and pulled their support from the show. Telecommunications giant Optus publicly denounced the show and withdrew sponsorship following the 2009 child r-pe chat incident. Optus has a long-term relationship with the station’s network, Southern Cross Austereo, and still sponsors another 2Day program, but maintains its distance from The Kyle and Jackie O Show.
But the commercial clout of the station’s controversial star means companies large and small still advertise on the show, even thought the “Sack Vile Kyle” campaign names them on its site. Weight loss giant Jenny Craig unsuccessfully tested the waters in January this year by announcing its sponsorship. Howls of protest forced it to withdraw sponsorship a day later.
Protesters might embarrass advertisers, but they haven’t stopped people from tuning into Kyle. In the eyes of 2Day’s management, as long as dollars follow, not much else counts.