John Laws’ suicide comments breached radio code, rules ACMA

Content warning: This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

John Laws’ remarks that a regular contributor to his radio show was “mentally deficient” and should “say something constructive, like you’re going to kill yourself” breached the radio code, the industry watchdog has ruled.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigated a complaint lodged in March last year over the segment, which aired that same month.


ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin confirmed the comments from Laws, one of the country’s best known and most successful talkback hosts, breached the Commercial Radio Code of Practice’s rules on decency and the treatment of suicide.

Broadcasters are required to “take care around references to suicide and not depict suicide favourably or present it as a means of achieving a desired result”.

“We expect licensees to take far more care in the content they broadcast around the very sensitive topic of suicide,” O’Loughlin said.

“The comments showed a lack of care about how they would impact the public. They trivialised what is a serious issue for Australians.”

Laws hosts The John Laws Show from 9am to 12pm on weekdays for Newcastle’s 2HD. The station’s website says: “With over 60 years of commercial broadcasting experience, John cuts through the political spin challenging our politicians with the hard questions and entertaining his audience with a variety of interesting guests.”

2HD also breached the rules on how to handle complaints, because it failed to respond to the complaint for three months, the ACMA declared.

Despite receiving a complaint on Laws’ comments on 30 March 2020, the station did not substantively respond until 29 June 2020. Under the code, broadcasters must do their best to substantively respond within 30 business days.

“Complaints from the public are a key pillar of the co-regulatory complaints system,” O’Loughlin added.

“We expect broadcasters to take a pragmatic approach, and where a person has lodged a complaint in good faith, to respond to them in a manner consistent with the code rules.”

The ACMA said the station has “reinforced with John Laws the role the code plays in protecting the community”, and addressed its complaints system by training staff who handle complaints.


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