No sex please… we work in radio

Comment from Peter Saxon.

Ever since the Harvey Weinstein affair went public in October last year, followed by a slew male celebrities accused of sexual misconduct, the developed world has been trying to make sense of it all.

Trying to discuss the different levels and nuances of such misconduct has been fraught. Take last week’s Q&A #MeToo Special.

A panelist on the show, The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen suggested: If you were a female, you were hounded down as a traitor to the movement. If you were a bloke, if you were someone like Matt Damon, who put his poor head up last year and spoke about a spectrum of behaviour, well, he’s recently apologised and basically said… He literally said, “I’m going to now shut my mouth“ No, we actually want people to be engaged in this, and I think that’s where I get concerned about where it’s going. 

Musician Isabella Manfredi chimed in: I agree with most of what you said. But I would say that, you know, drugging and raping 50-plus women is wrong. There are people in the debate who are wrong. 

To which Ms Albrechtsen replied: I haven’t heard a single person who has said that rape is right, OK, in this debate.

In his hilarious assessment of the Q&A program and to demonstrate just how polarising the #MeToo debate can be, The Sydney Morning Herald’s Neil McMahon wrote, “We apologise in advance/make no apology and also feel this is a cultural moment not to be ignored/to be ignored/to be celebrated/to be set on fire.”

So where do we stand now with the so-called “debate” regarding sexual misconduct? By now, i think, we can agree that sex is not a one-size fits all proposition.

The worst kind of behaviour a la Hey Dad star Robert Hughes and British the late broadcaster Jimmy Saville is the sexual assault of minors. A rung below that is when it happens to adults. Particularly nasty is the alleged practices of Bill Cosby who allegedly drugged his victims in order to violate them. 

These are, and always have been, criminal offences subject to lengthy jail terms for those convicted. 

What the Weinstein revelations and the subsequent #MeToo movement have brought into stark relief is why these crimes have been so under-reported, particularly in the entertainment industries. Yet almost everyone – not just Hollywood insiders – was aware of what was going on.

The first question in the Cash Builder on Channel 7’s The Chase is always a gimme, one that anyone but a complete ignoramus would get. For example: One way to land a plum role in Hollywood is via the “what” couch?

Everyone knew what the “casting couch” was, yet no one, including those subject to it, was prepared to say or do anything about it. Until now. And, now, finally, the floodgates have opened. 

Plainly, if you have the power to suggest to someone that you can make their career if they sleep with you or destroy it if they don’t, you are committing blackmail. Last time I checked blackmail, or its more legal name, extortion, was illegal and punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Whether in movies, radio or real estate, if you are subjected to this kind of blackmail, you should be able to report it to the police and expect the offender to be charged accordingly.

The other thing that has been uncovered by the Weinstein/#MeToo phenomenon is the shocking allegations of sexual bullying surrounding Don Burke. Those allegations demonstrate the damage that sustained pornographic language, weaponised by someone with an acid tongue, could cause.

But this is where the lines start to blur. Not all verbal abuse is as clearly offensive as what Don Burke is alleged to have unleashed. So, where exactly does the line between verbal abuse and what is considered to be harmless saucy banter lie? Why is it that one person can be pilloried for telling a blue joke at a party while another telling exactly the same joke is rewarded with laughter and life-of-the-party status?

Once we agree that paedophilia, sexual assault and blackmail are criminal activities (and should be dealt with as such) and verbal abuse should, at the minimum, be severely dealt with in the workplace, we then get in to the infinitely more complex relationships between men and women, men and men, women and women – and all the other permutations arising therefrom.  Where do you draw the lines? What is inappropriate behaviour to/from one person is a complete turn on for/from another. 

Beyond the edict that NO should mean NO, how do you set rules for the workplace where office romances are commonplace? Kyle Sandilands admitted on air last week that he has probably had sex with around 40 coworkers during his radio career.

Now, in the wake of the Barnaby Joyce affair, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has moved to ban sexual relationships between ministers and staff. It is not clear whether backbenchers will be kept to the same standards.

Ben Fordham on 2GB disagrees with such draconian rules. He recalls how legendary talkback kingmaker John Brennan insisted that if any two staff members developed a sexual relationship then one of them would have to leave the radio station. The trouble with that is that it would invariably be the woman forced out of a job.

On the other hand, office relationships can have an adverse affect on other staff particularly if the romance involves a senior executive who is perceived to be favouring his or her lover.

So, gentle reader, what do you think? Should sex at your radio station be banned between consenting adults or should people be left to go where their hearts lead? 

Please fill in the short survey below making sure you scroll through the panel and press the green OK and DONE buttons to register your vote. Your answers are completely anonymous. We’ll publish the results next week.