The broadcasting watchdog has determined that Tonightly With Tom Ballard did not breach ABC standards for causing harm and offense when it aired a segment referring to Australian Conservatives candidate Kevin Bailey as a “cunt”.
The segment aired in March of this year, and featured comedian Greg Larsen, who displayed a mock-up campaign poster for Bailey, containing the slur. The broader context of the skit concerned the renaming of the Melbourne seat of Batman.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield lodged a complaint about the segment with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, while Cory Bernardi wrote to the ABC‘s managing director Michelle Guthrie to express his outrage.
Fifield argued that the sketch crossed a line, saying: “Vitriolic abuse of this kind has no place on the national broadcaster and I will be asking the ABC to investigate. The ABC should also immediately offer an unreserved apology to Mr Bailey.”
Following its investigation into the incident, though, the ACMA announced yesterday that there was no breach, saying the joke in question was “offensive but was editorially justified and could be accommodated in the MA15+ classification.”
Their statement continued:
During the segment, Mr Larsen directed offensive language toward a named individual, saying that was because that candidate had refused to be interviewed. The ACMA’s investigation found that singling out a person in this way was likely to have offended some viewers but that most viewers would have understood the remarks to be ‘comedic’ rather than a genuine attack.
However, the ACMA warned that there were limits to the sort of content that could be justified by a comedic context and that those limits were certainly tested by the program.
Key to the ACMA’s finding was the target audience’s likely familiarity with the comedic style of the program, and its broadcast at 9.00 pm.
ACMA has published an outline of its finding as well as a longer document detailing the complaints and the investigation, and you can read both here.
Earlier this year, Adelaide comedian Joo Yung Roberts came forward accusing Tom Ballard of indecent assault, over an alleged incident that occurred in a hotel room after a comedy gig in 2014.
A few days before Roberts came forward, Ballard preemptively denied the allegation, saying that it “fundamentally goes against who I am as a person.”Image: Getty Images / Roberto Ricciuti