sky news blair cottrell ACMA

Sky News apologised and banned neo-Nazi Blair Cottrell from its broadcasts after he appeared on the network, but the broadcasting regulator has now ruled that the interview did not breach its code.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigated Cottrell’s appearance on The Adam Giles Show — which prompted Sky to apologise, take Giles off-air for months, and restructure its editorial reporting — and found that it met broadcasting standards.

In the segment, the United Patriots Front chairman, fascist and convicted criminal outlined why “white South Africans” should be given priority for immigration to Australia, spoke about “issues in Melbourne” with “African gangs”. Cottrell said in the interview that Africans from other countries were not “culturally similar to us”. “I do not think white South African farmers are going to be ransacking homes, carjacking, attacking police, chopping people up with machetes on the street. This happened in the northern suburbs of Melbourne,” he said.

There were at least two complaints about the interview to ACMA, including one from the office of Greens MP David Shoebridge. Other Sky News stars also criticised Cottrell’s appearance. 

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So why was it cleared?

The clause Shoebridge’s complaint related to in the subscription TV code of conduct requires broadcasters not to “provoke intense dislike, serious contempt on the grounds of national or ethnic origin of race, or religion”.

Though this is the same one that 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones breached in the lead-up to the Cronulla riots and caught out Seven’s Sunrise over that segment about Indigenous children’s welfare, it’s actually quite rarely breached. Seven is now challenging ACMA’s finding, saying ACMA is trying to censor discussion of a sensitive issue.

Despite Sky News’ apology and other changes following Cottrell’s appearance, the station argued that Cottrell’s appearance didn’t meet the high bar of breaching the particular clause. It requires that the comments actually broadcast (regardless of comments Cottrell has made outside that interview) were likely to have provoked or perpetuated an intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule.

“ACMA has previously noted that broadcasting an interview with a person whose views may be offensive or controversial does not in itself constitute a breach of the codes,” the regulator said in its decision. “Editorial decisions are a matter for the licensee.”

ACMA found that, because Cottrell was introduced by Giles as a controversial figure, and on-screen banners referred to him as a “far-right activist”, viewers would have understood there would be contentious views aired.

It said that while his views about non-white people from Africa were “highly offensive”, “material that merely conveys a person’s own negative feelings towards a person or group will not be enough to incite or provoke those same feelings in an ordinary reasonable viewer”.

“There must be something more than an expression of an opinion. There must be something that positively stimulates that reaction in others”.

Sky News has welcomed the decision as it continues to face criticism for its “after dark” programming. Last week it sacked Outsiders host Ross Cameron for calling Chinese people “slanty-eyed” on-air. Fairfax is reporting that he’ll be replaced on a semi-regular basis by Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who’s had his own fair share of controversies related to African gangs and a general aptitude for gaffes.