Kyle Sandilands’ Virgin Mary comments breached decency rules but didn’t incite hatred: ACMA

Kyle Sandilands’ comments that the Virgin Mary “lied” about falling pregnant to a “magical ghost” when “someone chock-a-blocked her behind the camel shed” attracted 180 complaints to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), and breached rules relating to standards of decency, the watchdog has ruled.

In the Kyle and Jackie O segment, broadcast a year ago, Sandilands also called Christians “dumb as dog shit”, but his comments did not reach the high threshold required to ‘incite hatred and severe ridicule’ on the basis of religion, according to ACMA.

“The ACMA notes that apart from the ‘dumb as dog-shit’ comment referred to by the complainant, the broadcast also included crude references to significant Christian religious figures, including Mary Magdalene (as ‘a prossie’ and ‘a whore’); the Virgin Mary (where ‘someone chock-a-blocked her behind the camel shed’ and ‘she lied’), God (as a ‘magical ghost’ and ‘a giant man in sandals’), Moses (‘some other bastard parted some ocean’) and Jesus (as ‘a magic man’ and ancient version of ‘Chris Angel’),” ACMA’s investigation report noted.

The watchdog’s chair, Nerida O’Loughlin, said that while “Australians are generally tolerant of irreverent humour and critical discussion about religion … they would not expect a host of a broadcast program to derisively criticise people’s intelligence because of their religious beliefs.”

“Mr Sandilands overstepped the mark in terms of the generally accepted standards of decency in this case,” she added.

Responding to the complaints, Australian Radio Network (ARN), which owns the station that broadcasts Kyle and Jackie O’s show, Kiis 1065, noted that Sandilands’ “strong views and colourful vernacular … may be exaggerated or amplified for deliberate effect and may not be representative of the general public”. On this occasion, his opinion was “stridently expressed (in his usual style)”, the radio company submitted.

“The use of the phrase ‘dumb as dog-shit’ in the segment may seem confronting to persons who are unaccustomed to Mr Sandilands’ frequent use of colloquialisms, but its impact is greatly diminished if contextualised against the regular use of colourful phrases often used by Mr Sandilands,” ARN added.

“The audience has ‘signed up’ for, and indeed expects, entertainment of this nature.

“The Code should protect people from hate speech but religious beliefs must be open to debate, and even ridicule, if justified by the context. To do otherwise may be a form of censorship.”

In fact, “there was little to no offence” suffered by Kyle and Jackie O’s audience, according to the company, because the complaints stemmed from viewers of the footage online. ACMA confirmed that listeners of the broadcast itself were part of the pool of 180 complainants.

ARN replied to listener complaints made directly to the network, issued a licensee statement, removed the broadcast from the website, counselled Sandilands, and reached out to religious leaders in the community.

Sandilands also apologised on-air after receiving death threats over the comments, and protesters gathered outside ARN studios.

“Truly, from the bottom of my heart, never do I want to make someone so angry that they don’t want to listen to the show, neither do I want them to be so enraged that they are threatening to kill people over something I’ve said,” he said.

“I never intended to purposely upset anyone. Obviously I have upset people, and I am sorry for it. There’s nothing else I can do.

“Am I going to quit? No. Am I going to get fired? No. Am I sorry? Absolutely I’m sorry.”

The steps ARN and Sandilands took in response to the backlash was a “sufficient remedy”, ACMA said, “particularly given it has not had any breaches of the decency provision, across any of its programs, in the past 10 years”.

Sandilands in his former Ten show, Trial by Kyle

In a statement to Mumbrella, a spokesperson from the radio business added:

“ARN accepts the ACMA’s final decision and findings regarding the breach of the Commercial Radio Code in relation to decency standards and no breach of the code in relation to inciting severe ridicule on the basis of religion. ARN thanks them for taking into consideration the number of extensive steps ARN took to address the broadcast of September 18, 2019.

“At the time of the broadcast, ARN recognised the sensitivity of the content and acknowledge that its broadcast caused a level of concern in some sections of the community.

“ARN has not had any breaches of the decency provision in the past 10 years and regrets any distress caused by the segment. In the time immediately following the broadcast, ARN took a number of actions to remedy the situation, including broadcasting Kyle Sandilands’ unprecedented, lengthy and sincere on-air apology which also remains available on the KIIS website. Australia’s Christian and Muslim faith leaders accepted Kyle’s apology, which was also published in a public joint statement.”

Kyle and Jackie O joined ARN’s Kiis network in 2013 from Southern Cross Austereo’s 2Day FM – a move Jackie ‘O’ Henderson has since said Sandilands orchestrated behind her back – where Sandilands attracted ACMA’s attention, including for the lie detector scandal in 2009. Shortly after coming back on air after that controversy, Sandilands was suspended for suggesting Magda Szubanski – whose family is of Polish origin – go to a concentration camp to lose weight.

Sandilands has also threatened to ‘hunt down’ a journalist he called a “fat slag” and “piece of shit” for a negative review, and called 2GB host Ray Hadley and Pedestrian TV ‘pieces of shit’ after they criticised Kiis FM’s Peter Deppeler, known as ‘Intern Pete’, for his question at Steve Smith’s ball-tampering press conference in 2018.

ARN’s parent company, HT&E, recently reported a $59m loss, following a marketing push ahead of the return of radio ratings, which were paused due to COVID-19’s impact on data collection. As part of its response to the pandemic, the business implemented pay cuts earlier this year, and stood down approximately 5% of the team in July.

Last week, the company restructured its commercial arm and promoted Lauren Joyce to chief strategy and connections officer.


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