The Kyle Sandiland decision and the ACMA’s current investigation ot the 7 Network’s degrading and humilating “Welfare gravy train” comment.

On 27 January 2012 the ACMA announced an investigation into an incident in which Kyle Sandiland allegedly broadcast humiliating sexist remarks that targeted a journalist, Alison Stephenson. On 27 March 2012 The ACMA revealed its finding and announced that its investigation had found that “Sandiland’s has breached decency standards and his comments made last year about a journalist were deeply derogatory and offensive.”

Less than 1 in 20 complaints or queries filed with the ACMA results in a finding for the plaintiff and therefore the Sandiland Decision is indeed newsworthy.

However, whilst Kyle Sandiland only insulted one woman the 7 Network is the subject of a number of complaints that I lodged with the ACMA last year, some of which are still being ‘investigated’. These complaints that the network was engaging in Targeted Socio-Economic Vilification, i.e. welfare bashing, and they resulted in responses from both the ACMA and the Federal Attorney-General’s Office that this activity is not unlawful! Can you believe that?

 Perhaps this decision resulted in over-confidence on the part of 7 network officials for in October 2011 SAS 7 introduced a welfare bashing segment that targeted teenager single mums with the derogatory comment remark, “…the welfare gravy train”. Since guys like me don’t get pregnant, I filed a complaint that this remark violated the Sex discrimination Act. In addition, since indigenous teenager girls were 500% more likely than their non-indigenous counterparts to get pregnant, I also complained that the remark violated the Racial Discrimination Act. Finally, since many of these teenager mothers are aged between 14 and 17, I also pointed out that the remark demeaned, degraded and humiliated children. Only Centrelink knows precisely how many single mums on “the welfare gravy train” may have been humiliated by the degrading “gravy train” comment; the number is probably in the thousands.

On 12th December 2011, the ACMA informed me that my complaint was being investigated. Although the Sandiland case was investigated in just two months, it is expected that my complaints against the 7 Network will take “several months”. This raises the very serious issue of why do high-profile complaints get fast tracked whilst low profile complaints that have implications for literally thousands of welfare recipients get tossed on the back burner.

In the wake of the penalty given to Kyle Sandiland, the question is what is an appropriate penalty if, by a miracle, justice should prevail and the ACMA finding in favour of my complaint? The 7 Network’s “welfare gravity train’ remark was a biased ‘spit the dummy’ response to the fact that the Australian Constitution places a legal obligation upon the Federal Government to pay a parenting allowance and consequently, any single parents who rely upon a paranting allowance are merely exercising their constutional right to this allowance?  According to Principle 2 of the recent media Convergence Review, national broadcasters are supposed to act in the national interest: 

Principle 2 stated: “The communications and media market should be innovative and competitive, while still ensuring outcomes in the interest of the Australian public”.

It is quite clear that the 7 Network, in deliberately vilifying and humiliating single mothers who chose to provide full-time care for their children, has an agenda that is inconsistent with “the interests of the Australian Public”. Yes the 7 Network can express an opinion on the constitutional issue of parental payment, but no, the network cannot do this in the content of leading prejudicial statements that deliberately vilify, humiliate and demean disadvantage, vulnerable sections of the community.

The first experimental television broadcasts took place in Australia in 1929 with commercial TV broadcasting officially starting in September 1956. During the 1936 Berlin Olympics the NAZI Government of Adolph Hitler used television as a propaganda tool to promote the racial motivated, elitist  ‘glories’ of Nazi socialism . It is therefore a blunt statement of fact that national legislators have thus had a very long time in which to deal with the problem of socio-economic vilification by broadcasters.

In the end, every decent, fair minded Australian must question why is it that in 2012 socio-economic vilification is now the only form of personal and social group vilification that is not illegal?

Ron Medlicott.


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