Laws, 2SM has no case to answer says the ACMA. Do you care?

Generally, when the ACMA has found a station in breach of this code or that, they send out a media release, or even hold a media conference as if they’d solved a murder or made a drug bust. But when the licensee that’s under investigation is found not to be in breach, they don’t seem to bother. Perhaps because most media couldn’t be bothered mentioning it either. Such is the nature of news.

Still, with the ACMA’s new website it’s now easier than ever to find out which stations are in breach and which aren’t because the results of all radio investigations dating back to 2009 are listed on the same page making it eminently more browseable than before.

A quick look down the list of cases that were concluded just this year, reveals a few minor technical breaches by smaller stations while Radio National, 6PR and 774 ABC have all been exonerated of various complaints lodged against them – as has 2SM for a broadcast by John Laws from March last year.

Jog your memory? Lawsie took a call from Carol who told him she’d been a victim of sexual abuse as a child.

Laws asked her a range of questions, including:
“Was it in any way your fault?”
“You weren’t provocative?”
The caller answered: “I was a little girl. I don’t think so John. No, I was just a little girl.”
He also asked, “Are you unattractive?”

The circus has well and truly moved on now, but back then social media went into meltdown. Outraged citizens came out and picketed the 2SM studios. Subsequently, a formal complaint from one such citizen made its way to the Watchdog who duly launched an investigation.

At the time, the public and much of the industry was enthralled with the morality play that was unfolding before them. Having previously found 2Day-FM had breached the broadcast decency code when Kyle and Jackie O interviewed a 14 year old girl who’d been raped, would Lawsie have the book thrown at him? Or rather, how will the licensee, Bill Caralis (who will have to foot the bill) find a way out of this mess?

And while most of us may have forgotten or don’t much care any more, the ACMA has ‘kept the dream alive,” so to speak, and have finally handed down a finding that runs to 31 pages. The bottom line is “The ACMA concludes that the licensee did not breach clause 1.3 of the Codes.”

What was the difference then, between the Laws abuse victim interview and the one conducted by Kyle and Jackie O which resulted in an additional licence condition slapped on 2Day?

According to the ACMA:

“C” (the code name given to the abuse victim) was an adult woman who introduced the subject matter of child sexual abuse, voluntarily recounted her experience, and willingly answered all Mr Laws’ questions.  This can be distinguished from Investigation 2266 in which the ACMA concluded that a broadcast in which a 14 year-old girl was questioned on-air about her truancies and sex life while strapped to a lie-detector, breached the decency code provisions

  • The program content was spontaneous, and it was not underpinned by an inherently problematic premise as, for example, in:
    • Investigation 2266 – a premise that involved exploiting the vulnerability of a child; and
    • Investigation 1270 – a competition segment based on the Holocaust.
  • Mr Laws’ tone was not aggressive or harassing as, for example, in Investigation 2751 where the presenter made deeply personal, derogatory and offensive comments directed at an individual in a menacing and vitriolic tone. 
  • Mr Laws’ comments and questions did not convey contemptuous disregard for human life or suffering as was the case in:
    • Investigation 1270 – as part of competition segment, a listener was asked to picture herself in Auschwitz in 1942 and to choose who gets sent to the gas chamber: her able mother or her sick daughter.  
    • Investigation 2598 – a quiz competition asked listeners to ‘guess the amount of deceased asylum seekers to be buried in Sydney’.
    • Investigation 2848 – the presenter aggressively stated that he hoped that asylum seekers drown while en route to Australia, conveying contemptuous disregard for their welfare. 
  • Many of Mr Laws’ questions were prompted by C’s own comments. Moreover, C willingly answered all questions without hesitation and took the opportunity to affirm that she was not at fault. In contrast, in Investigation 1270, the contestant’s discomfiture at the question was obvious from her sustained reluctance to respond. 
  • The broadcast did not did not trivialise child sexual abuse.  In Investigation 2266, the presenter’s response to a child stating she had been raped was ‘was that the only [sexual] experience [you have had]?’ Here, although Mr Laws’ references to provocation and appearance were clumsy  and tended to conflate the discrete issues of an individual’s experience of child sexual abuse and the sexualisation of children, Mr Laws stated very clearly that ‘nothing justifies [molesting a child] at all’.

Accordingly, on balance, the ACMA concludes that the licensee did not breach clause 1.3 of the Codes.

So, now you know. To read the ACMA’s whole finding, click here.


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