ACMA rules Hamster Wheel sketch breached Code of Practice

The Chaser breached the ABC Code of Practice when they depicted Chris Kenny having sex with a dog.

12hamsThe Australian Communications and Media Authority has ruled The Hamster Wheel breached the ABC Code of Practice when it depicted Chris Kenny having sex with a dog.

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’:

In summary
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.

9 Responses

  1. Actually eastwest101 there was a “meaningful message” to the sketch, one that appears to have been conveniently forgotten by all involved.

    That being that “News” Ltd regularly and spitefully attacks people via the use of manipulated imagery. Not only that, but it does so comparing to far more hurtful and offensive images (rats, nazis etc.).

    And it has the unmitigated gall to do so on its front page. Where news should be, not unfunny, offensive satire. The Chaser is a low brow comedy show, where such unfunny humour is expected, whereas “News” Ltd is meant to supply us with serious news coverage. The fact is that the low IQ readers of the Tele would, could and do take the front page stories seriously, which why the “satire” the Tele et al use on their front page is so insidious and offensive.

    The Chaser was outlining this behaviour and Kenny and his bosses have outed…

  2. I have never found The Chaser funny.

    I wonder if these clowns would be laughing if they’d been shot by secret service agents when they pulled off a stupid stunt a few years ago.

    Morons the lot of them.

  3. Guano Lad – yes but satire is also supposed to be funny. The sketch in question departed from comedy and was simply a personal attack based solely Kenny being a critic of the ABC, there was no other meaninful message, news value, known reference or political subtext in the sketch, it was simply a spurrious attack on a person because they are a critic of the ABC. If the ABC wish to persecute their critics then they should not be surprised if there are legal consequences taken when they depart from political news, commentry and their own charter into the personal vendettas.

  4. The problem is, I think the context of the image being shown is completely missed. It was not used to deliberately cause hurt or harm.

    The guy was just going after the ABC because the right wing hates the ABC because Murdoch told them to, because they are competition to his online presence. No one was hurt.

    The only offence seems to be the image taken completely out of context.

    Further to this, the Chaser have been on TV for a very long time. People know what to expect.

    How could the AMCA claim the image isn’t cartoonish????

    Also what is odd is saying because he is a critic, he should be treated better? What on earth is that? It’s because he is a critic and what he says is the context for the entire gag.

    What a joke this finding is.

  5. It certainly is and the ABC has “offended” the sensitivities of governments and people of all political persuasions over the years. Hawke and Keating were critics of the ABC and regularly complained to the board. Howard appointed liberal sympthisers to the board and even appointed the Chairman and Managing Director during his time in office. Apart from that ACMA (plus its earlier incarnations) is a toothless tiger and keeps itself busy with inquiries and wordy reports.

  6. The ABC also broadcast an on air apology and paid costs and a small compensation payment.

    The Chaser continued to refuse to apologise and attacked Kenny again.

  7. So what will the powerful and mighty ACMA do now that they have identified this horrific “breach”?
    When have they actually done anything that really pulls these broadcasters into line other than “staff are receiving counselling” or so and so “promises to take steps to prevent this happening”.
    Just like a parent in a supermarket with a noisy brat – “if you do that one more time…” and the kid knows full well nothing will happen….
    Receive an adverse finding like this in the U.K. and you’ll find yourself in serious trouble. The regulator needs to find some repect and this is not going to happen.

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