Media watchdog clears controversial Q&A episode

A controversial episode of Q&A in which panelists endorsed violence, has been cleared of complaints by the media watchdog.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority found no breach of the ABC Code of Practice on impartiality, language, and inciting violence.

ABC received over 200 complaints on the November episode, presented in conjunction with The Wheeler Centre’s feminist ideas festival, ‘Broadside.’ A discussion around violence against women raised the question, “…when is aggression and violence a better option than assertiveness…?”

Last year ABC launched an internal investigation with managing director David Anderson -who was watching at the time- acknowledging, “I can understand why some viewers found elements of this episode confronting or offensive.”

Host Fran Kelly, who cautioned a panelist over coarse language, later conceded she should have done more during the broadcast over remarks around violence.

ABC’s investigation led to the episode being removed from iview.

ACMA investigated 7 formal complaints around a lack of perspectives, for promoting offensive male stereotypes, inciting violence and coarse language.

In a 35 page finding it concluded that as the show was promoted as part of the Wheeler Centre’s feminist ideas festival its perspective was clear to the audience. ABC also submitted it has sometimes featured one perspective in Q&A where there is a single guest such as Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten and environmentalist Dr David Suzuki.

Both Mona Eltahawy’s and Nayuka Gorrie’s comments (‘how many rapists must we kill?’; ‘yeah, let’s burn stuff’), were deemed provocative but ACMA found they were illustrative of potential responses to the debate topic rather than proposing courses of action.

ACMA looked at whether Nayuka Gorrie appeared to support and even advocate arson as ‘the only option open’ to Indigenous Australians wishing to end the violence of colonisation. It concluded most viewers would accept the context of a light-hearted delivery, including a laugh and smile, was not an actual call to action.

There were also multiple F-bombs dropped during the debate which drew complaints. ACMA found one reference to Donald Trump as a ‘fascist f***’ carried more impact than other uses. But it noted Q&A as a current affairs programme does not require Classification, screened in a late slot and that Fran Kelly made three attempts to remind guests of language.

However given panelist Mona Eltahawy had previously been in breach of the Code over language, ACMA did find ABC failed to make reasonable efforts to provide information about the potential for content to cause offence. But because David Anderson issued a statement and the episode was removed from iview, it also considered this concern was resolved.

ACMA also found that although comments were made by panellists about male violence toward women, the panellists did not claim or imply that all men were violent toward women.

Last year Tony Jones, who was wrapping up as resident host, told TV Tonight, “If we were to go back and reinvent the panel we probably would have had a panel with alternative views.”


  1. I’m glad to see common sense prevailed in this case. I saw this episode and while I didn’t agree with the comments I could understand the context and it was clearly a thought experiment not an incitement to violence. I think people let their politics colour what they were hearing. I just hope this doesn’t mean Q&A will avoid putting outspoken people on the panel.

  2. So the ACMA is now even more radical and revolutionary than the ABC. If that’s acceptable debate then lets just burn down the ACMA for what is the point of it?

    • * Brokered the biggest ever peace deal in the Middle East
      * Met the North Korean president and left without incident
      * Hasnt started any wars in 4 years
      * Is removing troops from overseas posts and returning them to the USA

      You’re right – not a single world leader right now would have the courage, guts or foresight to do any of that.

  3. In answer to Zoodle:
    You’ve made interesting points but are in error about the “PG” classification limits for news and current affairs shows.
    The overall guidelines for such shows do state that they don’t require classification but must be aware of the classification guidelines for the time-zone in which they are telecast.
    That means a post-7:30pm news/current affairs show is in an “M” classification zone – and “Q+A” is post 8:30pm, which is when the “MA” classification kicks in.
    To illustrate, they could’ve called President Trump a ‘fascist c***’ rather than ‘ a fascist f****’.
    However, a disclaimer would /should proceed the episode re ‘coarse language, adult themes’ perhaps?
    It’s that tricky balance between freedom of speech and community acceptance of such: i.e. Just because you can say something, should you?

    • I was referring to PG being the explicit threshold for home media, but merely a “rule of thumb” when it comes to unclassified material for broadcast (as I do not recall any such threshold explicitly stipulated in the FTA Code of Practice). News and current affairs frequently cover adult themes that would typically not be permitted at PG, but as you’ve said, it would not sensible to permit frequent strong coarse language, graphic violence, and nudity just because they theoretically can within the timeslot.

      Furthermore, I do not think it is responsible for platforms such as Q&A to descend into what it did in the above-mentioned episode. The fact that the watchdog hadn’t considered the episode to be at all problematic (especially in respect to impartiality and inciting violence) is concerning. I would be interested to read that 35 page “finding”.

  4. We are certainly allowed free speech in this country, but I think this was a tad too far? Imagine if some extreme right-wingers said these things. I think they’rd be condemned up and down the country

  5. Surprise, surprise. Preach extreme leftism/misandry and you get a free pass. And when was it okay to call a world leader a “fascist f***” on a public forum? What a revolting display.

    And yes, while these sorts of programmes typically do not require classification, the rule of thumb is that exempt content must not exceed what would normally be permitted at the PG classification (this rule exists for home media anyway), so if they, for example, wanted to use foul language or describe sexual acts in graphic detail, then an M or above would have been more appropriate. Incidentally, Insight used to be rated PG by default until they scrapped classification some years ago, but I have seen a few episodes since that would have required an M classification due to coarse language and/or themes. What good is content classification if such material is not being disclosed?

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