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.

Cathy Alexander — Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

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.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

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.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details