The ACMA has found that an ABC television broadcast of The Hamster Decides, which contained a manipulated image of journalist, Mr Chris Kenny, breached Standard 7.1 of the ABC Code of Practice 2011.
Standard 7.1 requires that content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by its editorial context.
The ACMA found that the 11 September 2013 broadcast breached the standard, because:
- it was intrinsically likely to have caused a high level of offence;
- there were some factors that mitigated that offence but, notwithstanding that mitigation, it was still likely to offend; and
- while its editorial context was framed by the satirical nature of the program and other related considerations, its broadcast was nonetheless not justified by the editorial context.
‘Robust debate is a common feature of Australian political discourse and artistic expression, and the ABC Code provides considerable latitude to the ABC to broadcast challenging content that may offend some audiences some of the time,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.
‘However, the ABC’s standard must, and does, create a line beyond which material cannot be broadcast if it is not justified by the editorial context. The ACMA reached this decision after careful consideration of the complaints, the ABC Code of Practice and the ABC’s and the program producer’s lengthy submissions. In this case, the ACMA considers that the material crossed that line,’ he said.
In reaching its breach finding, the ACMA had close regard to a number of considerations and circumstances, including:
- the comedic and satirical context of the skit
- the extreme and disproportionate construct of the joke
- the nature of the program’s target audience
- the likely level of offence created by the skit’s strong image and coarse language
- the identification of Mr Kenny in a way likely to leave a lasting impression.
‘As a consequence of the complexities associated with the construction of the ABC’s Code, 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.’
The ACMA also found that the broadcast did not breach Standards 7.2 and 7.3 of the ABC Code, which require appropriate classification and adequate classification labels, warnings and consumer advice.
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Media release 32/2014 - 20 June
The ACMA’s role regarding the ABC Code is different from its role regarding the commercial broadcasting codes. The ABC Board is required by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 to develop a code of practice relating to its television and radio programming and to notify this code to the ACMA. The ABC notified the most recent relevant version of its 2011 Code to the ACMA on 5 November 2012 (date of effect 1 January 2013). This is a different process from that established in the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 for the development of the commercial broadcasting codes, which entails registration by the ACMA if appropriate community safeguards are provided.
As with other broadcasters, complaints that the ABC has acted contrary to the ABC Code may be made to the ABC and, if the ABC fails to respond or the complainant considers the response is inadequate, a complaint may then be made to the ACMA. The ACMA must then consider whether the complaint is justified.