The media watchdog decreed the sketch breached Standard 7.1 of the Code which requires content to be justified by editorial context and that it ‘crossed a line’:
The ACMA has concluded the following concerning the material in the program that is the subject of the complaints:
1. it was intrinsically likely to have caused a high level of offence;
2. there were some factors that mitigated that offence but it was still likely to offend (as the ABC has conceded);
3. its editorial context was framed by the political nature of the program, the well and long-established audience of The Chaser team (which audience was the target audience of the program), the various signposts and cues embedded in the elaborate joke and the joke’s clear enough editorial purpose; and
4. the broadcast of the material, likely to cause a high level of offence, was not justified by the editorial context as required by the ABC Code.
Accordingly, the ACMA finds that the material breached Standard 7.1 of the ABC Code.
In its lengthy findings, ACMA detailed its reasoning, some of which is republished here:
1. Does the material have the intrinsic capacity to be likely to cause harm or offence?
The answer to this question is yes.
The material in this segment was high in intensity. It includes a number of elements specifically referred to in the Principles as being relevant to the application of the Standard:
• coarse language
• disturbing images; and
• unconventional situations in a humorous or satirical context.
It contained two instances of an image depicting a man (with Mr Kenny’s head) with his pants down impliedly engaged in bestiality, strong text (‘Chris ‘Dog F***er’ KENNY’), and accompanying strong verbal references (‘Chris Kenny strangling a dog while having sex with it’).
Although clearly manipulated, the images display an implied act of bestiality, which remains a strong social and legal taboo, with what looks like a real dog. The image was conceptually strong. The ACMA disagrees with the ABC’s characterisation of the apparently collaged image as ‘cartoonish’.
The segment explicitly linked this conceptually strong image to a named individual in a highly demeaning manner, in circumstances of a direct attack upon a known person.
The ACMA notes that the complainants raised particular concerns that the material involved a depiction of an identified person, with Complainant 2 stating:
The remarks and image of Mr Kenny and [the] term “Dog F***er” denigrates and have been used deliberately to offend and cause hurt.
The fact that the individual who was the subject of an unusual and strong attack (albeit in a comedic context) was a critic of the ABC also carries some inherent potential to add to the scene’s offensiveness for those in the community who consider that the ABC, as a national broadcaster, should maintain particularly high standards of fairness in the treatment of its critics.
The ABC has, in its responses to complainants and its submission to the ACMA, acknowledged that the program had been assessed as being ‘likely to offend’.
The ACMA considers that the image depicting implied bestiality, as well as the use of very strong coarse language in a personalised attack on a critic of the ABC, was reasonably likely to cause a high intrinsic level of harm or offence.
ACMA also ruled that parts of the ABC Code were ‘problematic:’
In particular, the Interpretation provision and the Principles, intended to assist in the application of the Standards, proved to complicate and obscure rather than simplify or clarify.
ABC issued an apology to Chris Kenny last month following an apology by managing director Mark Scott earlier.