It is widely expected that the next ABC managing director will be a woman, the Singapore-based Google executive Michelle Guthrie. The ABC is so keen its board has asked the Remuneration Tribunal to approve a substantial increase in its chieftain’s salary, reportedly to $1.2 million a year.
When the appointment is actually announced, the ABC will no doubt make much of its “recognition” of the role of women and the respect in which it professes holds them. The national broadcaster may well do this at the level of managing director but it certainly doesn’t respect women in what it tolerates to be broadcast over the ABC airwaves. Its standard there are those of the gutter.
Consider, the ABC has actually approved a panellist, Tom Gleeson, on The Chaser’s Media Circus, saying that the wife of a public figure, Prince Charles, prefers second wife Camilla to the deceased Diana because she is “a better root”. (editor’s note: the entire show, which went to air on November 11, can be viewed below. The comments in question begin three minutes and thirty seconds into the programme.)
Pointing out that the ABC has been warned before about its reprehensible conduct, a New South Wales viewer, Charles Down, went to the trouble of complaining to the Corporation. He observed that the broadcast of this latest abomination would be as much an insult to any woman as to the target, the Duchess of Cornwall, ”wife of our future King”. To broadcast this abuse by ABC regular Gleeson was, he said, beyond the pale. That surely would be the view of most Australians.
The ABC replied on December 11, informing Mr Down that the Audience and Consumer Affairs unit had considered his complaint under the ABC’s editorial standards for harm and offence. These provide that content likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context. The same document goes on to say that what may be inappropriate or unacceptable in one context might well be appropriate and acceptable in another. “Coarse language… may form a legitimate part of… humorous, satirical…or other artistic work.”
The ABC told Mr Down it was sorry he had been offended, but insisted “the discussion”, as they dignified this segment, was but ”gently mocking” press coverage of the latest royal visit. At this point, Mr Down must have realised where the ABC was going. They might as well have responded: “We are terribly sorry you are offended when we choose to wallow in the gutter.”
The Duchess of Cornwall, the response further insisted, is a “legitimate target of satire”. As such, it is perfectly legitimate to use the most disgraceful language in regard to the Duchess — earlier in the show described as being indistinguishable from a policeman’s horse — and the marital relationship with her husband.
The ABC clearly has a very low assessment of The Chaser team’s audience, who they must think believe it perfectly acceptable to abuse women for their physical appearance. This is particular ironic as much recent airtime has been devoted to violence against women. Those who recall the broadcaster’s many and spirited defences of Julia Gillard will find it even moreso. In the case of the Duchess of Cornwall, however, the ABC grandees came to the conclusion that the gross and disgusting comment was “clearly justified” by the “editorial context”. It was, they said, in “keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards”.
Upon reflection, this is no surprise. Not so long ago the ABC grandees found that a digitally altered photograph of well known and respected political commentator Chris Kenny having intercourse with a dog was also in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards! Sir Charles Moses must be rolling over in his grave.
The ABC had to be brought to heel over the Kenny affair. This was done in not one but two forums. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) overruled the ABC’s interpretation of its editorial standards. And just prior to that, it was forced to settle a defamation suit brought by Mr Kenny, one which it was doomed to lose but fought doggedly nevertheless, needless to say at great cost to public purse. Managing Director Mark Scott at long last had to issue a most fulsome apology for this egregious breach of standards.
Mr. Down finds the ABC’s latest ruling beggars belief. He is considering if he should turn to ACMA. Let us hope he does. In the meantime, while the ABC has no doubt calculated that the Duchess is not likely to go to court, it cannot be sure that the next woman so foully insulted will also abstain from litigation, the damages and legal costs inevitably to be paid by the taxpayer.
Bear this history of gross hypocrisy in mind if, as widely predicted, Ms Guthrie is confirmed as Scott’s replacement. Expect the broadcaster to heap praise upon itself for appointing a woman to the most senior post, and there will be many fine words about what such an elevation does for womankind in Australia and throughout the world.
Amid the self-congratulation, don’t forget the loathsome language flung with immunity at a female target who has done nothing to them and whose only crime is failing to figure on the list of women in politics or public life of whom the ABC approves.
(Note: David Flint, a gentleman of the old school, has since written to advise that, had he written the headline atop this article, rather than the site’s editor, he would not have used Ms Gillard’s name to illustrate the ABC’s two-track approach to women it likes and those it does not. Alas, by that stage, the essay had gone live, and it was too late to reflect David’s objection.)