ABC Comedy show Tonightly with Tom Ballard has been cleared over an investigation into sketch directing an insult at an Australian Conservatives candidate.
The March segment involved Greg Larsen suggesting the Melbourne electorate of Batman be renamed “Batman-was-a-c***” over John Batman’s treatment of Indigenous Australians. In a series of mock posters, he noted, “[There] was an issue because there is no Batman anywhere on that poster,” Larsen said. “So I’ve had to put Kevin Bailey was a c***,” he joked.
The segment drew criticism from Communications Minister Mitch Fifield amongst others and prompted complaints to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
ABC Director of Television David Anderson personally telephoned Kevin Bailey to apologise after it aired.
Today ACMA has found no breach by the ABC, noting the comedic context rather than being used for attack, including Larsen breaking ‘character’ because Bailey had refused to be interviewed.
“F*** it. I am breaking character here because, I tried to get an interview with Kevin Bailey,” Larsen said at the time. “I was like ‘hey man, let’s have an interview. We’ll do a thing about … a funny package about the election. I wasn’t even going to make fun of you. I was going to make fun of the Greens. But then you refused the interview so this is what happens. This is what happens when you f*** with Greg man.”
ABC also submitted “Tom Ballard’s vehement objections (albeit in a feigned, comedic manner) which signalled to the audience that the program fully understood that genuinely calling a candidate a c*** is an entirely inappropriate and unjustified thing to do.”
Key to the ACMA’s finding was the target audience’s likely familiarity with the comedic style of the program, and its broadcast at 9pm with an MA15+ classification which allows for coarse language.
However, the ACMA warned that there were limits to the sort of content that could be justified by a comedic context and noted “that those limits were certainly tested by the program.”