ACMA finds Hadley in breach for being a grandpa while on air

Comment from Peter Saxon

If you find that headline misleading, my apologies. 

In truth, it was not Ray Hadley that last week was found to be in breach of article 2.2 of the Commercial Radio Code of Practice which deals with decency. The actually villain was deemed to be Radio 2GZ Pty Ltd [Triple M 105.1 Central West].

In the arcane legal framework by which the regulator must operate, it is the radio station licensee that is responsible for their talents’ behaviour.  Like a manager in a supermarket, the ACMA has no authority to directly discipline the unruly toddler throwing a tantrum in aisle five. They can only put pressure on the kid’s parent to do something about it.

And why was one station in Orange, NSW, singled out to be in breach of the Code and not 2GB, where the program’s made, nor any of the other stations to which it is networked? Because that’s where a lone listener lodged their complaint about what Hadley had said on that listener’s local station.

Happily, the good folk at ACMA can wade through all this nonsense and quickly identify where the program originated and where the fault lines actually are.

None of this resonates, of course, with the ‘ordinary, reasonable’ listener. They have no interest in the licensee of the Triple M branded station in Orange and most wouldn’t know who or care what Macquarie was and that Nine had bought it a year ago. Why should they? All they know or care about is what Ray Hadley said. And given the number of complaints about what he said, which was one (yes, count ‘em, one), it doesn’t seem as though they, as a group, care very much one way or the other.

At this point, you may ask, so what’s he done/said this time? Which would be unfair because, in fact, Hadley had never before troubled the regulator over the decency clause in his 35 years as a broadcaster.

What he’s done, in his own words is: “To react to some flea – an anonymous person on social media attacked my 13 month old granddaughter in the most disgusting and vile terms and I do mean disgusting and vile. So, not being a cardboard cutout I react to this attack on social media on my little baby granddaughter.”

A listener remarked that, “he was only doing what any grandpa would do.”


The ACMA, not without some empathy, considered that “it was clear from these comments that the matter Mr Hadley was discussing was highly personal to him and that his comments would be interpreted by the ‘ordinary, reasonable’ listener as an emotional response to the alleged social media ‘attack’.”

So far so good, but ACMA ruled that Hadley overstepped the mark when he noted that: if the uncles of his granddaughter could find this individual, the individual would be ‘drinking through a straw for a long long time’.

In its finding, ACMA  stated that it is “of the view that the ordinary reasonable listener would have understood that:

> An individual had written comments online that ‘attacked’ his granddaughter 

> If the relatives were able to locate the person it is likely they would assault the individual

> The host was conveying a threat of assault to the individual.”

I’ve long felt uncomfortable with what constitutes an “ordinary reasonable” person which you can read about in more detail here

While I consider myself to be reasonable, I object to being seen as ordinary. So I guess that, for me, a career at ACMA is out of the question.

Seriously though, when only one person in one regional locality complains, how can they be considered to represent a cross-section of ‘ordinary, reasonable’ people?

Conversely, what if that particular ‘ordinary, reasonable’ person in Orange had been feeling a bit crook that day and couldn’t be bothered to lodge a complaint?  Then none of this would have happened at all. It seems incredible to me that one complaint from one person out of the millions that listen to the Ray Hadley Morning Show across Australia each week is enough to trigger a full-blown investigation that takes over a year to deliver a conclusion.

I’m not blaming the good folk at ACMA, they can only work under the rules they are given. And I’m not letting Hadley off the hook either. As a professional broadcaster, he should know better.

Whether you are licensed as a driver or a broadcaster, you are granted that licence on the understanding that you obey the rules. You can argue (with some justification) all you like that the speed limit is set too low in Australia and should be 130 or more as it is on many motorways in Europe, but you can’t make a unilateral decision to drive at a 120 if the sign says 110. Nor can you be surprised when you’re booked by the highway patrol or the ACMA. especially when you’ve gone to school on your erstwhile colleague and lead-in, Alan Jones who was nicked by ACMA on several occasions for making violent and mysoginist comments.

Nonetheless, one thing that both Hadley and the ACMA can agree on is that he was sorely provoked – even though it doesn’t excuse his on-air remarks.

Taking the provocation and Hadley’s unblemished record into account, ACMA suggested as punishment that he be counselled, which he may find tedious but hardly the kind of swift and merciless imposition that can be produced by, say, a petition.

At the end of day, ACMA has gone through the motions to demonstrate that it is in touch with what the ‘ordinary, reasonable’ listener wants to hear on radio and has prescribed a punishment upon Hadley – sorry, Radio 2GZ Pty Ltd [Triple M 105.1 Central West] – commensurate with the crime. So, all’s good, case closed, right?

NO IT”S NOT! Not by a long chalk. What about the real perpetrator of this entire episode, the cretin who posted the vile comments about Hadley’s granddaughter in the first place? Why are they allowed to get away with vilification of a minor scot-free?

Why is the playing field so in favour of the social media giants and their users in virtually every aspect of Australian media and defamation law? 

As I argued in my column just last week, the current laws are rooted, in a time before the advent of social media – before trolls, like the one that got to Hadley’s granddaughter, existed due to the lack of a platform that could publish or air their offensive comments with impunity. 

If we have the technology to figure out what foreign actor is engaged in a cyber attack on our country, surely we can track down some amateur troll in the Orange district. 

When we can enact laws that will prosecute him or her, as well as protect them from Hadley’s granddaughter’s uncles, and laws that can charge the platform for allowing the offensive material to be published in the first place, in the same manner that local MSM can be held responsible, then and only then, can this case be considered closed.

Peter Saxon







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