John Laws cleared of code breach after asking child sex abuse victim if it was her ‘fault’



Talkback radio host John Laws has been cleared of breaching media regulations for asking a woman who told him she had been sexually abused as a child if it had been her fault.

Laws asked the woman live on the Radio 2SM John Laws Morning Show on March 19 last year whether it “was in anyway your fault” after she told him she had been physically, verbally and sexually abused through much of her life.

When she said no, he asked: “You weren’t provocative?” and she responded: “I was a little girl so I don’t think so John, I was just a little girl.”

Complaints flooded in following the show and protesters gathered a petition of 38,000 signatures by the Destroy the Joint action group calling for Laws and his show to be taken off air.

In a ruling clearing Laws of breaching the conditions of its licence Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) said the remarks were “a clumsy attempt to show empathy and support”.

It said Laws and his employers, broadcaster 2SM, part of the Super Radio Network, did not breach the conditions of its licence as Laws did not break the general accepted standards of decency and response to complaints.

Listeners had called the station during the broadcast and Laws talked to three of them on air, then read out three emails from listeners complaining about his line of questioning. Then Laws apologised for his comments on the following Friday, and  apologised again on April 5 when protestors gathered outside the radio station office in Sydney with the petition.

“If anybody took offense at the way I framed the questions then of course I’m sorry and I’ve already said I’m sorry and I also made it very clear that if I created any ambiguity at all about compassion or sorrow or understanding of what she had been through, that certainly was not my intention,” Laws said.

The woman in question had called the show on the Friday after the interview and said she had not been offended by the comments, and Laws spoke to other listeners and read out emails from those in support of him.

However the ACMA received complaints from listeners who said they were “disgusted” by the interview, and said the woman had indicated on Facebook that she was not happy with the interview.

Among the complaints was the claim Laws had gone on to talk about “five-year-olds wearing bras and pumping up their bosom” in the show on the following Friday, saying: “John’s arrogance on this matter is disturbing. He apologises but then tells us to go to hell – really?  No apology will suffice. He needs to be removed from the air immediately. This will not go away 2SM so take action now.”

Others writing in disgust asked the ACMA to “ban him from radio and censure his employers”.

However the ACMA found Laws’ apology and subsequent interview of an advocate on the matter meant the broadcaster did not breach section 1.3 of the code pertaining to the standards of decency.

“While Mr Laws’ comments may have been construed by some as suggesting highly abhorrent notions, they are equally capable of being construed as a clumsy attempt to show empathy and support,” the ACMA ruled.

“It was apparent that Mr Laws was listening to and questioning her out of concern and interest, rather than to express any views he had on child sex abuse.”

The ACMA also acknowledged the woman’s role in the conversation, saying she had voluntarily recalled her experience, willingly answered Laws’ questions and many of them had been prompted by her comments.

“Mr Laws’ tone was not aggressive or harassing”, the ACMA ruled, and his “comments and questions did not convey contemptuous disregard for human life or suffering”. Nor did the broadcast “trivialise child sexual abuse”, it found.

“Although Mr Laws’ references to provocation and appearance were clumsy  and tended to conflate the discrete issues of an individual’s experience of child sexual abuse and the sexualisation of children, Mr Laws stated very clearly that ‘nothing justifies [molesting a child] at all’,” the ACMA concluded.

In regard to the station’s handling of complaints, the ACMA found the Super Radio Network had met its requirements as it dealt with over 100 complaints on the matter, and found no evidence one outstanding complaint forwarded to the ACMA had been received by 2SM.

For the full report click here: 2SM Investigation report no 3071 docx(1)

Megan Reynolds


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