QED

The Things Kids Learn from Their ABC

In 2019-20, the team’s focus was to reach younger Australians, their families and their wider communities in a way that was both meaningful and beneficial. — ABC annual report, 2019-20, p86.

With approval at highest levels, the ABC is encouraging schoolchildren 15 years and upwards to view salacious ABC materials. This week the ABC dismissed my complaint about these salacious and wrongly classified materials, which I had described to the ABC as “pornographic”. Others might consider them comedic, edgy and harmless. You decide.

The materials are embedded through the nine-part “comedy” series At Home Alone Together, which screened at 9pm Wednesdays from May 13. The series is now on iView with eight of nine episodes rated as M (Mature) by the ABC’s classifying team. This team comprises two full-time and two part-time staff.

To improve take-up in the young teenager demographic, even the most salacious M episodes involving “adult themes, coarse language, drug use and sexual references” begin with an ABC voice-over, “Recommended for people aged 15 and over.” Episode 7 is flagged MA15+ but curiously, cites only its “coarse language”. The ABC voice-over advises, “It is not suitable for people under 15 years.”[1]

I set out the noxious content of At Home Alone Together here last month. I’ve now had leisure to check the contexts: ABC-internal, regulatory, political and cultural. To recapitulate, here’s the most contentious segment, from M-rated Episode 4 (at 12mins 50secs). A graphic about “triple penetration” shows a stylised naked woman crouched on all fours, straddling a naked man who reaches up to grasp her torso. The prone man is penetrating her vaginally. Behind the crouching woman, another naked man kneels, penetrating her anally while grasping her hips. The “triple” element involves a standing man grasping her head to push her mouth onto his penis. The ABC production team has enlivened the graphic to show animated thrustings. End-credits acknowledge the work of two “Motion Graphics” specialists, which might relate to the sexual animations.

What would the classifiers need to step up the rating to MA15+? Perhaps a donkey plus a man whipping the woman.

Other graphics from the Episode 4 sketch are stylised people, mostly naked, animated to show “vaginal contact” (a couple in the missionary position); “a vigorous rogering” (woman leans down to grasp the foot of the bed while man penetrates her from behind); “urinating in public”; “sex” (a woman rides a prone man reverse cowgirl); “taking a dump in a hotel [corridor] ”; “just don’t have sex while you take the dump” (a crouching man between rooms in the corridor penetrates a woman from behind while defecating).

The next animated graphic is of a man using a dog waist-high, while the woman narrator in voice-over says, just to be clear, “Simulating sex with a dog, actually that was never really fine.” The final animated graphic shows a man with a two-metre penis penetrating from behind a clothed woman, apparently without underwear, who is leaning against the foot of a bed. The giant penis is pixelated in unusual ABC manifestation of concern for possibly innocent 15-year-old schoolchildren and adult Christians. Elsewhere in Episode 4 (19mins) a male character holds a foot-long salami like an erect penis and boasts of his “really big dong”.

Other “M” rated treats from At Home Alone Together episodes:

# Episode 1, 3mins, “M”: An actress says in a satire of Harry Potter: “

Maybe it’s another wizard girl from another house and she wants to suck your dick or lick my … I would love to give Dobbie a little Gobbie … I would love to be moaning like Myrtle.

Episode 2, 11mins, “M”: A male character opens his pants to expose his large penis, and the female says, “All right let’s have a look. My my we have been working out. You can’t beat the real thing, welcome to Cougar Town.” Then she kneels to fellate him.

Episode 8, 8mins, “M”: Apropos of male public toilet “glory holes” where men can fellate each other separated by a wall, the segment satirically substitutes handshakes for fellatio at a toilet “shake spot”. Business men and footballers are invited to pay $50, or $70 for “a nice firm one” and are also offered “a wet one”.

Episode 5, 21.40mins, “M”: A 60-year old female character praises penises “of all shapes and sizes” and licks cream from an éclair to illustrate. She tells a partner: “Well I like to see your dick and while working to arousal get my big breasts out.”

Episode 6, 2.50mins, 9mins, and 13.30, “M”: Males and females emphasise defecation, eg., a sister to brother: “I want to take a shit on your head.”

Episode 7 (M15+). A female character aged 60 asks a much older female about her “favourite blow-job technique” (19.30) and her first orgasm, and the younger woman boasts about her arousals in the shower.

 

I LODGED a formal complaint to the ABC, asserting that these materials are pornography unfit for broadcasting.

“Subject: Broadcasting pornography and failing to classify adequately

Comment: All but Ep.7 was classified M which is wrong and endangers the welfare of schoolchildren 15yo and upward. The series should not have been broadcast at all but at least all episodes warranted MA15+.

I then listed the salacious materials set out in my previous Quadrant Online essay. I also noted to the ABC:

“My complaint is probably past 6 weeks of the screenings but I have accessed the programs – as many 15yo’s would – through iView. I trust the 6 week test will not be used to invalidate my complaint. Thanks.”

The ABC’s says complaints can be referred to its Independent Complaints Review Panel (ICRP) only if they were originally lodged within six weeks of the date of broadcast.[2] This is a mere technicality, apparently, based on the fact that the ABC deletes some unimportant recordings after six weeks.[3]

I received the following reply last night:

Your email has been referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of content areas within the ABC. Our role is to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards. These standards are explained in our Editorial Policies which are available here:https://edpols.abc.net.au/policies/[4]

Audience and Consumer Affairs will generally not accept for investigation complaints lodged more than six weeks after an item was broadcast or published. As you have not indicated that any special circumstances apply in this instance, we decline to investigate your complaint. Your comments have nonetheless been noted and made available to ABC Entertainment & Specialist.

Yours sincerely
Lauren Crozier
ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs

I will now complain to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, although the ABC might continue to escape accountability via the “six-week” fudge or ACMA claiming I’m being vexatious.[5]  Classification complaints to ACMA are a rare event.[6] In 2018-19, ACMA handled only seven classification complaints about all television broadcasting.

It’s a challenge to allocate responsibility for Episode 4, rather like allocating responsibility for hiring Victoria’s private quarantine guards. Episode 4 lists two executive producers, one Sseries producer, five producer/directors, and one contributing director, plus a “Screen Australia production executive”. It is striking that Episode 4 had its own ABC “Editorial Policy Adviser”, one Simon Melkman.

Senior producers of the series include several of the team that made the low-rated and dumped Tonightly show. In one Tonightly episode in March 2018, comedian/presenter Greg Larsen called Australian Conservative candidate Kevin Bailey a c—nt. In the four-minute Tonightly rant, which was pre-approved by ABC executives for broadcast, there were eight “c–ts” and two “f–ks”.

In the M-rated Episode 9 of Home Alone, 16mins40secs, a couple move into a “tiny house” and are soon squabbling over their cramped space. The male says, “Maybe if we moved into your vagina we would have a bit more room.” The ABC’s cognitive dissonance is breath-taking over such misogyny and its everywhere-else-professed feminist credentials.

The original At Home Alone Together concept was for harmless lockdown stuff like self-improvement, DIY., wellness, parenting and personal finances. Notwithstanding At Home Alone Together’s actual content, the just-released 2020 ABC Annual Report praises the series. Chair Ita Buttrose’s communication to Parliament reads,

Other morale-boosting new programs included At Home Alone Together, a comedic take on the lifestyle magazine genre that went from concept to screen in just six weeks.

ABC top executives’ love affair with At Home Alone Together bore fruit just last month in the promotion of its “ever-genial” creator Nick Hayden[7] to Head of Entertainment, replacing Josie Mason-Campbell, who had exited in the course of a budget-led restructure last June.[8] She cited Home Alone as part of her entertainment track record, saying, “I have been privileged to work with the ABC and to lead a ridiculously talented and creatively brave factual and entertainment team.”[9]

The ABC normal line is that boys are influenced by males’ endemic disparagement and contempt towards women with disrespect and sexualisation of females in turn generating males’ domestic violence and sexual assault. In 2016 the ABC was barraging viewers with government anti-domestic-violence ads showing boys slamming doors on girls and chauvinist fathers telling boys “Don’t throw like a girl, mate!” The ad’s voice-over says, “Violence against women starts with disrespect. The excuses we make allow it to grow. Violence against women: let’s stop it at the start.” Well said but…

The ABC 2020 report under a sub-head Shining a Light (p19), praises a 4Corners’ episode called “Boys Club” for its “most impactful investigations [that] exposed a toxic culture at Melbourne’s exclusive St Kevin’s College, including the grooming of students.” Maybe the ABC Four Corners team could investigate At Home Alone Together‘s toxic culture for schoolkids? After all, 98 per cent of children aged 15 are at school.[10] Even at Year 12, 89 per cent of girls and 80 per cent of boys last year were at school.

The ABC report also fetes its series A Few Good Blokes “exploring what it means to be a good role model” in support of the ABC’s me-too production Silent No More. That dob-in-a-sleaze program became the ABC’s disaster of the year:

ABC STATEMENT: Due to human error, an early version of Silent No More was provided to a small number of accredited media under embargo. This early version had not yet had names and details of three women blurred in shots of a computer screen.

The ABC role-plays as Australia’s champion for women, with its more than 53 per cent female staff and 51 per cent female executives. Target for ABC news stories is for 50-50 representation of women (currently 45% or more), and “a commitment to content that is relevant to women.” I guess the At Home Alone Together schematic of a woman being entered from behind by a two-metre penis would be included as female-relevant content.

At Home Alone Together‘s salaciousness screened just a couple of months after the ABC’s International Women’s Day extravaganza featuring a cringe-worthy “all-female line-up across capital city Local Radio, ABC Classic and RN, as well as 24 hours of songs, stories, and discussions from female artists and presenters on triple j, Double J and triple j Unearthed.” (p67).

We discover board members’ feminist credentials on opening pages of the report. Ita Buttrose is a founding member and former president of Chief Executive Women. Trump-hating deputy chair Kirstin Ferguson[11] has been a board member of SheStarts, and Chair of the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards. She’s a member of Chief Executive Women, Women Corporate Directors and the Women’s Leadership Institute of Australia. Donny Walford is a Founding Member of International Women’s Forum Australia, and a former director of Australian Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Georgie Somerset’s past roles include with the National Foundation for Australian Women.

Let’s move now to the politics of program classification. ABC and SBS alone have the privilege to rate their own TV shows. Other TV broadcasters’ material is subject to external and official ratings supervision. Currently the ABC’s freedom to rate itself involves highly-sensitive politics. In 2011, a Senate inquiry studied classifications and impacts of broadcast material on sexualisation of children, objectification of women and portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.[12] In 2018 the ACCC urged an inquiry dealing with, among other things, “a nationally uniform classification scheme to classify or restrict access to content consistently across different delivery formats”. This led early this year to a departmental inquiry and report run by ex-bureaucrat Neville Stephens AO and still under wraps.[13]

Communications and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher is about to decide on the issue, according to an email I received from the department on October 26. The ABC submitted strongly that any interference with its self-rating would compromise its independence and value to Australian as a cultural standard-bearer. Indeed, such a move would have “a chilling effect”. It submitted:

The [ABC] Corporation maintains a rigorous Editorial Policies framework to ensure that high standards are met and the ABC is accountable to audiences through the co-regulatory regime with the ACMA [Australian Communications and Media Authority]. The ABC Editorial Policies state that the Corporation’s broadcast and publication of comprehensive and innovative content requires a willingness to take risks, invent and experiment with new ideas, while taking care not to gratuitously cause harm or offence.

The submission also includes:

The Corporation recognises that it has a privileged place in the media landscape, with access to spectrum and public funding. It is required, among other things, to broadcast programs that contribute to a sense of national identity, inform and entertain, while reflecting the cultural diversity of the Australian community…

The introduction of any new classification regime must take account of the independent editorial decision-making processes of the ABC. The ABC operates within a wider accountability framework and is not subject to the National Classification Scheme…

The ABC believes any dilution of its independence, however subtle, may have a chilling effect on its ability to fulfil its core functions, including delivering diverse, innovative and sometimes controversial content to audiences.

The detailed provisions for each classifiable element (themes, violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity) of the ABC Classification Standard provide a level of accuracy and consistency that is not achieved through the Classification Board’s impact test…

This dynamic framework for classification allows the ABC to take chances with programs that commercial media cannot or will not support. Public broadcasters nurture new talent and support cutting-edge program-making…

ABC audiences can understand precisely what to expect at each classification level and can rest assured that the decisions made by ABC classifiers have been made as objectively as possible. The existing approach is effective, audience centred, responsible and responsive.” [As if.]

The 2020 ABC annual report says (p81):

Classification has progressively exhibited heightened sensibilities with respect to editorial concerns in children’s programming, which has led to a significant increase in the number of episodes being referred for review. There is far greater oversight of children’s programming in terms of the content’s compliance with non-classification matters, such as ABC Editorial Policies…

The ABC believes online protection of children and young people under the age of 18 is a shared responsibility between the ABC, the parent or guardian, and the child, and aims to ensure that children and young people who engage with the ABC’s online spaces understand the possible risks they face and how to minimise them.

Other parts of the annual report say,

“The ABC acknowledges that a public broadcaster should never gratuitously harm or offend and accordingly any content which is likely to harm or offend must have a clear editorial purpose…

Coarse language, disturbing images or unconventional situations may form a legitimate part of reportage, debate, documentaries or a humorous, satirical, dramatic or other artistic work…

 Avoid the unjustified use of stereotypes or discriminatory content that could reasonably be interpreted as condoning or encouraging prejudice...

Children and young people– Principles: The ABC aims to provide children and young people (under the age of 18) with enjoyable and enriching content, as well as opportunities for them to express themselves. (p184-5).

 That At Home Alone Together’s salaciousness got the OK from high levels at ABC suggests something endemically awry in the taxpayer-funded behemoth. The over-arching policy is “upward referral” where anything controversial is kicked up to higher levels pre-broadcast, and if a staffer doesn’t do this, he/she takes the consequences personally.[14]

I sent a barrage of questions to ABC media flack Peter Munro, “Communications Lead, Entertainment & Specialist” about how the episodes came to be rated “M” (8 episodes) and “MA15+” (Episode 7). Munro clarified that the ratings were done by the ABC team of “Network Content Classifiers”, and he forwarded the ABC guideline documents.[15] He declined to name the four people and where the team sits on the ABC organisation chart.

He also ignored my request to specify the top ABC person running the At Home Alone Together project and which of a dozen or two key producers and writers for At Home Alone Together were ABC staff and which were co-opted in as part of the ABC’s drive to support the COVID-affected arts community. He did provide me with boilerplate about which of the nine episodes involved violence, sex, language, drug use and/or nudity, printed anyway at the head of each iView episode.

An elderly lady reader in care hid a printout of my essay last month on At Home Alone Together in case staff came across it and were shocked at my extracts of the ABC’s Home Alone and perhaps reported her to management. Check iView yourself – assuming you’re at least 15.

Tony Thomas’s new book, Come To Think Of It – essays to tickle the brain, is available here as a book ($34.95) or an e-book ($14.95) 

 

[1] The ABC says that its “M – ‘MATURE’ involves material potentially harmful to under 15s. ‘The less explicit or less intense material will be included in the M classification and the more explicit or more intense material, especially violent material, will be included in the MA15+ classification.

Sex: Sexual activity may be discreetly implied. Generally, coarse language that is stronger, detailed or very aggressive should be infrequent, and not be gratuitous.”

Its MA15+ – MATURE AUDIENCE is “likely to be harmful or disturbing to under 15s. Sex: Sexual activity may be implied. Coarse language that is very strong, aggressive or detailed should not be gratuitous.”

[2] ABC Editorial Policies Document 2009 Clause 7.4 p147

[3] Ibid 12.1.7 p76

[4] 7 Harm and offence

The ABC broadcasts and publishes comprehensive and innovative content that aims to inform, entertain and educate diverse audiences. Innovation involves a willingness to take risks, invent and experiment with new ideas. This can result in challenging content which may offend some of the audience some of the time. The ABC potentially reaches the whole community, so it must take into account community standards. Context is an important consideration. Consideration of the nature of the target audience for particular content is part of assessing harm and offence in context, as is any signposting that equips audiences to make informed choices about what they see, hear or read.

[5] 13.8.2 If a complainant is not satisfied with the response, and the matter is covered by the relevant ABC Code of Practice, a complaint can be made to ACMA. 13.8.3 ACMA must investigate complaints addressed to it and covered by the ABC Code of Practice, except where complaints are frivolous, vexatious or not made in good faith.

[6] A complainant is entitled under section 150 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) to take their complaint to the ACMA if the complainant considers the ABC’s response is inadequate.

[7] Sally Riley, ABC Head of Drama & Entertainment, said Hayden has shown great instinct and drive for developing and producing entertainment shows. He has passion and enthusiasm for new ideas and talent, along with a genuine interest in fostering and protecting the ABC’s current slate of shows. “I look forward to collaborating with him on our award-winning Entertainment slate and strategy in the years to come.” Hayden responded that it was “a genuine honour to take on the role of Head of Entertainment within an organisation I love.”

[8] The ABC says creative and content maker Nick Hayden “created the COVID-19 friendly comedy At Home Alone Together”.[8]

[9] Ms Mason-Campbell also took some credit for the ABC’s ridiculous, child-like global warming farrago Fight for Planet A.

[10] Chapter 4 School education – Report on Government Services …

[11] Deputy chair Ferguson replied to a tweet from a reporter proclaiming “Honestly, I reckon Biden is going to smash this drugged-up crook in the debate.” Her reply was, “I sincerely hope so.”

[12] Recommendations 2 and 3.

[13] Digital Platforms Inquiry, p12

[14] “This process can extend, through the relevant director, to as far as the Managing Director as Editor-in-Chief. If staff do not refer the issue upward, he or she will be responsible for the editorial decision made.”

[15] I don’t envy the team as the ABC puts out more than 20,000 hours of TV material annually.

5 comments
  • Peter OBrien

    Brilliant expose Tony. And over and above the issue of classification, the broader question is why the ABC would think this stuff is clever or amusing or even of interest to the large majority of adult viewers is beyond me. Did you ask how much it cost to produce this rubbish?

  • Tony Thomas

    HI Peter, Screen Australia seemed to provide most of the funding as a handout to arty types and they don’t disclose funding to individual projects.

  • pgang

    It’s not about being funny, it’s about destroying family values.

  • bomber49

    This could not appear on a commercial channel not because of moral concern but because no sponsor/business would want to be linked to this filth. No such restrains on tax payer funded ABC

  • David Spong

    I have never heard of the programme. It sounds like pornography, pure and simple.
    I made a complaint several years ago about a programme because there was no warning in the preview that there were homosexual sex scenes, just sex scenes.
    As I am totally disgusted and appalled at the thought of male homosexual activities, I was not happy.
    The ABC declined to agree with my view.
    It seems that it’s okay to offend folks like me with no warning.

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