4CA cleared by the ACMA for alleged breach of decency

4CA Cairns has been cleared by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) after a listener complained about a comment made on Mornings with John Mackenzie.

Hollywood commentator John Michael Howson referred to US President Barack Obama as ‘piece of chocolate’ in his regular chat with Mackenzie on 17 June 2016.
The ACMA found there was no breach of code 1.1(e) [proscribed matter] and no breach of code 1.3(a) [generally accepted standards of decency] of the Commercial Radio Australia Codes of Practice & Guidelines 2013.

The complainant wrote: “Mr. Howson on this occasion has stepped well over the line by referring to the US President Barack Obama as “that piece of chocolate that’s the President”, and then launched into an attack on President Obama’s character.”

The regulator accepted that “an ordinary reasonable listener would have understood that the reference to President Obama as ‘that piece of chocolate’ was a reference to his skin colour,” but did not find the broadcaster in breach of the two relevant codes.

For a breach to occur, the material broadcast must be capable of urging, stimulating, or encouraging listeners to share feelings of hatred, contempt or ridicule, according to the ACMA. “Material that merely conveys a person’s own negative feelings towards a person or their actions will not necessarily be a breach of the Codes… This comment by Mr Howson was made in the context of providing Mr Howson’s assessment of President Obama’s response to violent acts by ‘Islamic terrorists’.”

On the first count of airing programs unsuitable for broadcast (Code 1.1) the ACMA judgement said:

“The word ‘chocolate’ in this context portrayed the speaker’s highly regrettable attitude and choice of words and expressed a level of contempt for President Obama based on the colour of his skin. However, the comment did not urge, stimulate or encourage listeners to share feelings of hatred, contempt or ridicule towards President Obama based on his skin colour. The ACMA considers that the requisite degree of incitement was absent from the comments.”

On the second count of breaching Code 1.3 about decency, the ACMA said:

“The ACMA considers that while the comment was extremely regrettable, crudely expressed and insensitive, it was made within the context of Mr Howson providing his personal opinion regarding what he considered to be President Obama’s excessive sensitivity in response to violent acts by Muslims. In this context, the brief comment was not threatening, abusive, vulgar or contemptuous to the extent that it was unsuitable for broadcast.”

The relevant part of the Mackenzie – Howson segment is:

MacKenzie:   It’s interesting that political correctness has come to this. Fundamentally it’s become a gag on freedom of speech.

Howson:    Of course it has. It makes people frightened to talk out because they’re going to be called a racist or they’re going to be called something, I don’t know. You know, you can see what – the stuff that’s been heaped on Donald Trump, who is the only politician, like him or loathe him who is actually telling the truth in the United States.

MacKenzie:   Now I want to take you….

Howson:    You know, and that, that piece of chocolate that’s the president has, has avoided every… in fact the other day he said why – what good would it do after to call them Islamic terrorists? Well it would identify – nobody shirks from calling the people who ran Auschwitz Nazi’s, I mean what is it with these, these people that they are so mealy mouthed and scared of telling the truth. I don’t get it.

MacKenzie:   I want to take you to this other dreadful business in America this week that alligator taking the child at Disney World – what does that mean for the future of Disney?

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