The term “cunt-struck” was perfectly acceptable for broadcast on the ABC’s Four Corners, the Australian Communications and Media Authority has ruled, after a complaint accused the ABC of looking for controversy through its broadcast of derogatory language in its documentary on Michael Lawler and Kathy Jackson earlier this year.

“This is prime viewing time and this language is not acceptable in my home or in many other homes in Australia,” a complaint to the ABC read. “How low is the ABC, our National Broadcaster, prepared to go? As a regular ABC viewer, I was disgusted and disappointed.”

But ACMA has ruled the ABC did not breach the ABC Code of Practice, saying that given the language warning at the start of the program, and the fact that it was aired after 8.30pm, there was no breach of the code.

As is characteristic with ACMA reports, the report released today goes into some detail explaining just what context the strong language was used in.

“The program contained several instances of coarse language, specifically the words ‘bullshit’, ‘bloody’, ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt-struck’, which were used by Mr Lawler,” the report notes.

“The ACMA notes that the terms ‘bullshit’ and ‘bloody’ and are in common usage in contemporary Australian vernacular. Here the terms were used by Mr Lawler either as an exclamation or intensifier in response to the reporter’s question as to whether he is attempting to cover up his own wrongdoing (‘that’s bullshit’) and as a description of his current situation (‘it’s a bloody nightmare’).”

“The word ‘fuck’ was used within this context as a colloquial exclamation or intensifier. In this case, Mr Lawler used the term twice. Once when speaking with Ms Jackson about their relationship and the other in a recorded conversation with his friend and mentor, Mr David Rofe, a retired QC. The use of the word was neither aggressive nor frequent in context.”

Meanwhile the word “cunt”, used in “cunt-struck”, was used once by Lawler to describe his relationship with Jackson. “I’ll be characterised as that scumbag, crook, fraudster and, at the very best, somebody who’s been bewitched by an evil harridan, namely Kathy; that I’m cunt-struck and that I have been utterly, um, taken in by somebody who is a serious crook,” he said.

To which ACMA noted:

“The coarse language used by Mr Lawler in the program was not directed at another person in a way that was intended to insult or offend that person. Rather, the coarse language was used in a colloquial sense either as an exclamation or intensifier to convey his views on allegations made against him and Ms Jackson, his affection and concern for his partner and friend, and his view of his current situation.

“These factors, at least to some degree, moderate against likely offence.”

Lawler was also notable for his bizarre contortions with phones and recording devices while on air, which, as Four Corners’ Gold Walkley-winning reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna explained on the Media Report, was a bid to get around the specific restrictions on recording telephone conversations.


Still from Four Corners

“People felt it was a bizarre yoga move when he was holding a phone,” she said. “But it’s something he was doing deliberately. Due to federal legislation you don’t have [the] phones touch, and you don’t have a cord or recording device that connects the two. That’s how he says he got around that.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey