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Jun 20, 2014

Regulator hands official reprimand to ABC over THAT Chris Kenny skit

More trouble for the ABC over the infamous skit of an Australian commentator humping a dog -- now ACMA has found the skit breached the ABC's own rules.


The federal government’s normally cautious TV regulator has found against the ABC over its decision to broadcast a photoshopped image of Australian columnist Chris Kenny having sex with a dog.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority verdict, released at noon today, is a serious embarrassment for the ABC and raises questions about how well the ABC reviews complaints about its work.

It’s a moral victory for Kenny and The Australian, who have been waging war on the ABC over the skit since it aired on The Hamster Decides (the work of the Chaser boys) last September. And the verdict is an interesting addition to the debate around satire, free speech and offence in the Australian media.

ACMA found the ABC had breached its own Code of Practice, specifically section 7, which deals with “harm and offence”. Here’s the section the skit breached:

7.1 Content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context.

ACMA chairman Chris Chapman says the skit “crossed that line” on section 7.1. Chapman says ACMA grants “considerable latitude to the ABC to broadcast challenging content that may offend some audiences some of the time”, but the Kenny skit went too far and was “not justified by the editorial context”. It’s the first time ACMA has found the ABC breached this section.

ACMA says it took into account “the extreme and disproportionate construct of the joke”. The skit had a “strong image and coarse language” and was “likely to leave a lasting impression”. It certainly did that.

And in a gently worded but telling rebuke to the national broadcaster, Chapman went on to say “the ACMA has suggested that the ABC Board reflect on whether its code is operating effectively and as intended in the context of dealing with harm and offence”. This could be interpreted to mean ACMA thinks the code is not working properly and needs to be changed.

This issue has a torturous history that does not reflect particularly well on the ABC — and has been used repeatedly by ABC critics as fodder against managing director Mark Scott.

The skit was aired during last year’s election coverage. Complaints followed, prompting the ABC to review the skit — and decide it did not breach ABC editorial policies.

Kenny lodged a defamation case against the ABC and production company Giant Dwarf. Scott then apologised in April this year — seven months after the skit was broadcast. A settlement with Kenny was reached earlier this month, and the ABC make another apology (this one on-air). It’s believed the ABC had to pay Kenny “some damages,” reported to be around $35,000 plus legal fees. Now ACMA, the government regulatory body responsible for television, radio, internet and telecommunications codes of practice and standards, has found in Kenny’s favour. ACMA is seen by some as slow to criticise the media, and its decisions carry clout. It does not often find against the ABC. For example, according to a Herald Sun story this week, ACMA has investigated complaints into 12 ABC programs this year, and upheld none of them (until today).

The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell told Crikey the ACMA verdict “shows the problem with ABC internal processes. These found no breach. I would also ask why the ABC stuffed around for six months when they were advised in December of ACMA’s position.”

An ABC spokesman told Crikey: “The ABC will review the ACMA report and its findings. The ABC has twice apologised to Mr Kenny, and separate court proceedings have been settled.”

ACMA found the skit did not breach two other sections of the ABC Code of Practice.



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14 thoughts on “Regulator hands official reprimand to ABC over THAT Chris Kenny skit

  1. The Pav

    How freaking PATHETIC.

    ACMA does nothing about real problems but farts about this.

    How can anybody associated with teh OZ be offended since thet have already voided themselves of values.

    If they want to do something about offensive programs then why don’t they do something about The Bolt Report, ACA and Today Tonight that falsely claim to be news & current afairs.

    What about the ads that are straight out lies and are a wilful intention to deceive.

    As I said Pathetidc ACMA absolutely pathetic

  2. mikeb

    Would this be the first ACMA decision that Andrew Bolt agrees with?

  3. leon knight

    A big win for the OZ all round, and a minor slap for the ABC…..but we will all remember and love the skit for years to come, even those who otherwise never have found out about it, the memory enhanced by the sensitivity to satire revealed by the OZ in general and Mr Kenny in particular. Richly satisfying…what can we do to smear some memorable satire on Janet too?

  4. Draco Houston

    How is this a win for Chris Kenny? The dude’s whole freedom of speech argument has been destroyed by his own actions. If anything this is a validation of the merits for media regulation. Like mikeb said, just watch Bolt agree with this, hahaha.

    Meanwhile the Chaser aren’t getting taken off the air, they got their joke aired and Chris Kenny is well known as The Guy That Got Shopped Up A Dog or whatever.

  5. Itsarort

    Hmm, I remember Pickering’s calender back in the day that depicted Bob Hawke’s penis as < 1" long while Malcom Fraser's ran all the way down his leg and under a chair. Like all bullies, Kenny, Bolt, Jones, Price,…, they're sooks; one and all.

  6. Yclept

    So now ACMA is in Rupert’s pocket. The evil empire keeps expanding…

  7. AR

    I really wanted to hear Mitchell deny his proclivities in open court.

  8. Ken Lambert

    If the ABC really loved free speech they should have tried shopping a Muslim crazy (a Mufti with meat cleaver) sodomizing a dog.

    They wouldn’t have had the guts like most of the Crikey commenters on this thread.

    Kenny was a soft target who the ABC and Chaser boys thought would not bite.

    Go on ABC and Chasers – try testing the limits of free speech and expression on deserving crazies who could cut up very rough – see if you are brave enough to defend to the death your right to grossly offend.

  9. Patriot

    Dog fucker good, witch bad. You strange, strange people.

  10. Alex

    I love the ABC, but, I think this is a fair cop. They got it wrong, but, give them points for Media Watch’s honest assessment of this, and more recently, for its critical review of the lack of reporting of the controversy surrounding Julia Gillard’s involvement in establishing the union slush fund. Contrast this with The Australian’s response to criticism of its reports on cigarette plain packaging.

  11. Kevin Herbert

    I reckon we should all just let D F C Kenny get on with his obsequious stenography for Limited News.

    His new moniker will live on forever.

  12. Aidan Stanger

    Were there two different Chris Kenny skits? The one I saw was clearly not defamatory (it was vulgar abuse which defamation law famously does not descend to) and was entirely justified by the context.

    The context was that Chris Kenny had made some accusations without evidence and didn’t seem to see anything wrong with that. So in response the Chaser broadcast the allegation that Chris Kenny shagged dogs, but they made it very clear that there was no evidence to support the claim, and that the pictures were faked. No reasonable person could have concluded from that that Chris Kenny actually did root dogs.

  13. Andrew McIntosh

    Well, this is a low point for Australian media in general. No one’s coming out of this looking good, except to partisans of either the ABC or The Australian.

    Seeing the actual sketch before all this hoo-ha, it did come across, quite distinctly, as stupid, and I couldn’t help wondering at the time (as others must have) how it managed to get past the editors and approvers. Having to churn out show after show can take its toll on the best but one could see a sense of desperation with that particular item. Hardly surprising it came to court, really – the ABC should have seen it coming. The Chaser’s producers at least, surely.

    The Chaser basically handed the opponents of the ABC a weapon, and that should have been obvious from the start. This is where the freedom-of-speech, offence-is-a-right type of mentality leads to – simple pettiness and a lowered cultural tone. I realise this comes across as pompous but I can’t help seeing the whole bit of business as pointless and unnecessary. With a simple bit of common sense The Chaser could have saved the ABC and themselves the bother and the humiliation.

  14. Chris Hartwell

    “Free speech is fine, so long as it isn’t speech that offends US!”

    Hello Kettle, this is Pot – you’re black.


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