I’m glad that this shocking drongo is back on the air
Confined to a wheelchair and wearing a pith helmet and an American flag fashioned into a nappy, shouting obscenities at the justices of the United States Supreme Court, pornographer Larry Flynt was a massively flawed hero for the cause of free speech.
This morally bankrupt hillbilly was famously sued for defamation by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who in a fake advertisement for Campari published by Flynt’s Hustler magazine recalled how he lost his virginity by sleeping with his own mother in an outside toilet on the family pig farm.
It’s hard to imagine a more egregious slur. Nor a more unbelievable one, which is one of the reasons Flynt ultimately won his defamation battle, reinforcing the free speech protections afforded by the First Amendment.
“If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me then it will protect all of you, cause I’m the worst,” Flynt said of his victory.
Kyle Sandilands is also a scumbag. But a hero he ain’t. The key difference between Flynt and Sandilands is self-awareness. Flynt knows he’s morally bereft, and revels in his status as a putrid stain on the tapestry of humankind. Sandilands thinks he’s hard done-by, misunderstood, that he’s a credible and intelligent entertainer who keeps getting a raw deal from his detractors in the press. Flynt is candid about his willingness to degrade women, albeit women who consent to their own degradation. Sandilands has lashed out at female journalists as bimbos, fat bitches, and then waxed indignant about how he’s been unfairly painted as a misogynist.
One of the most interesting interviews Andrew Denton ever did was with Sandilands - not because of anything it unearthed but because it unearthed nothing, other than the sight of the commendably non-judgmental Denton clearly struggling to suppress his disdain for his subject.
As someone who shares that disdain, I still struggle with the seemingly dominant chorus of voices calling for Sandilands to be silenced forever, or to have his future broadcasts monitored and vetted by a government body, probably a turbo-charged version of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, where bureaucrats could sit in a room with an urn and a whiteboard examining Kyle’s content against a checklist going to race, gender, religion and sexuality.
The thing that’s amazed me about the Sandilands scandal is how it’s exposed the rich seam of censoriousness on Australia’s liberal-left, where people who benefit from the freedom of expression we enjoy in this country have found themselves arguing it should no longer be extended to a card-carrying halfwit in Kyle.
There are two issues at play with the hideous rape exchange which he and his sidekick Jackie O - deservingly derided by Helen Razer as the Uncle Tom of feminism - put to air on Austereo’s commercial FM network last month.
The first goes to possible criminality, the second to taste.
Given that the age of consent in NSW is 16 - and the girl interviewed on Austereo was 14, and ended up revealing on radio (while strapped to a lie detector, for God’s sake) that she’d been raped when she was 12 - there may be an argument for a carefully-considered legislative prohibition on the media questioning any child about matters of sex or sexuality.
And it would have to be carefully considered, to ensure it did not stymie credible and important coverage of child protection cases which expose government failure or criminality by parents or community leaders.
But the broader criticism of Sandilands - of the “oh, he’s done it again” variety - is framed around nothing other than his track record of consistently shabby, low-rent, offensiveness, where he’s called people “mongs”, used foul language, insulted women.
And it’s here where so many people have blithely argued that he should either be censored, or shut down forever.
Our website The Punch copped a degree of criticism for publishing Kyle’s “defence” of his actions. The criticism took us by surprise. When the rape exchange occurred, we’d led our site with a piece bagging Sandilands and inviting discussion as to whether he should be taken off air, and hundreds and hundreds of readers jumped on the site and gleefully kicked the bloke half to death.
Many asked - “what the hell was he thinking?” - which perhaps afforded him a faculty which was overly-generous, but a fair question all the same. When we tracked Sandilands down and asked him to do just that - write a piece explaining what the hell he was thinking, or if he was even thinking at all - a number of readers attacked us for running it.
Bizarre, as the publication of the piece was a powerful demonstration of Denton’s Enough Rope principle, where we gave him several lengths of the stuff and he proceeded to hang himself.
The killer line in his nonsensical defence was where he said that the mother of the girl was worried about her sexual habits and wanted to find out what she was up to.
Indeed. Who needs DOCS when you’ve got Kyle, Jackie O and a polygraph machine?
If Sandilands thought the piece would get him off the hook he was sadly deluded as within minutes the website was groaning under the weight of reader comments which, summarised, said: what an ignorant bastard.
It was a strong demonstration of how genuinely lucky we are to live in an open society. But that week, in a sheepish appearance on the ABC’s Q and A program, I was challenged again by someone in the audience about our apparently audacious decision to run his piece. And there was a general “hear hear” when Simon Sheikh from Get-Up suggested on the panel that perhaps it was time to give ACMA more powers to act against this kind of content.
These casual suggestions invite the question - what kind of powers?
Do we set up the Department of Satire, Decorum and Human Dignity, and submit all material intended for publication or broadcast in advance to make sure no-one will be slighted or aggrieved?
Should the new seven-second delay introduced by Austereo be extended to seven days, or probably seven weeks, so that the department can sign off on the content?
Everyone from Chris Lilley to the now-defunct Chaser to everyone who writes a column for a newspaper or a website, or posts comments on a website, could have their work cut out, and possibly, cut up.
The reaction to the publication of Sandilands piece shows that unfettered public discussion is one of the best things we’ve got going for us as a country.
I’m glad that he’s back on air on Monday, and look forward to not tuning in. Hopefully others will do the same, rather than let government do their thinking for them.
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