FEDERAL Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has blasted the media watchdog’s ruling that codes of decency were not breached when he was called a “wanker”, “clown” “gerbil” and other names, during a live radio interview.
A complaint was made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) by Mr Joyce’s office after a heated a radio interview with Sydney radio host Kyle Sandilands, on May 15.
The fiery exchange took place between the KIIS FM host and National party deputy-leader, after Mr Sandilands objected to the minister’s use of language in describing biosecurity concerns, underpinning the illegal importation of Hollywood heart-throb Johnny Depp’s dogs.
Mr Joyce sparked global reaction when he warned that Mr Depp had 72 hours to deport his two terriers Boo and Pistol back to the US, or risk being euthanased.
The pets had entered the country illegally on a private flight into Queensland from the US where he was filming his next movie, but were detected by the Minister’s Department.
“It’s time Pistol and Boo buggered off back to the United States - and after that I don’t expect to be invited to the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean,” Mr Joyce said at a media conference.
But in a subsequent interview, Mr Sandilands suggested the minister went “overboard” and was “grandstanding” by threatening to kill the two terriers unless they were deported within the specified time frame.
A transcript of the interview submitted with the ACMA report highlighted the intensity of the broadcast, as Mr Joyce sought to explain the nation’s biosecurity laws had been breached, to the irate radio host.
Mr Sandilands said “you sound like an absolute clown telling the guy to bugger off back to Hollywood or we’ll kill his dogs. You sound like an idiot. You’re a government minister, not some idiot off the street mouthing off to a news camera. Have some decency”.
But Mr Joyce responded, “Jeez Kyle that seems interesting coming from you, mate. You’re the number one clown on radio. You’re a savage little man.”
Mr Sandilands eventually terminated the phone call but continued his ranting on-air saying the federal minister was “just a gerbil of a thing”.
But ACMA’s finding, from an investigation finalised on August 14, said the radio station’s licensee did not breach the decency provision, in relevant codes.
“In a robust interview on a subject of some political controversy, where a series of heated remarks were exchanged that escalated the tone and tenor of the language used, the phrases used by Mr Sandilands, while discourteous in terms of the conventions for political address, were not so threatening, abusive, vulgar or contemptuous that they were not suitable for broadcast,” it said.
The ACMA report said the complainant submitted was that there was “a stream of verbal abuse, inappropriate referencing, and the lack of courtesies that would normally be afforded to a Minister of the Crown”.
In response, the licensee submitted the radio interview was conducted in the context of the minister making what could be seen as “inflammatory statements in public on the issue of Johnny Depp’s dogs”.
The assessment was based on what the ordinary reasonable viewer have understood the material to convey and audience demographics.
ACMA said it accepted the licensee’s submission that use of the word “wanker” was not sexual in nature.
“While the ACMA has previously acknowledged that the word may be considered offensive or coarse by some members of the community, in this case it is considered that the program’s regular listeners would understand the word is used in the ‘Australian vernacular’,” the report said.
“In this sense, the use of the word, while again disrespectful, does not constitute a breach of the decency provision within the context of a robust political debate on a controversial topic where apparently heated statements were made by both participants.”
ACMA also said there was no breach of the code in Mr Sandilands’ remark during the interview, that Mr Joyce was “just a gerbil of a thing”.
The licensee submitted the comment was a reference to “a small mammal and nothing more”.
“This did not include any depiction or description that was sexual in nature, nor any sexual connotation,” the report said.
“While the ACMA is aware of colloquial meanings that could be inferred from the comment, the lack of surrounding material supporting any such inferences renders the remark innocuous or, at worst, ambiguous.
“As such, the comment does not reach a level of offence that is in breach of the Codes.”
Speaking on ABC Radio last night, Mr Joyce questioned what needed to be said to someone to constitute offensive language.
“What he (Mr Sandilands) said was completely and utterly 180 degrees away from what other people would say was a decent way that one human being talks to another human being,” he said.
“He is a public figure.
“If this is taken to be the standard norm on how one person talks to another person, then what do we do when we say to kids in the classroom, ‘You can't talk to your teacher like that?’
“Or we say to one person on the bus, ‘No you can't talk to the bus driver like that’.
“How do we have this sort of world where it's alright in one area or but it's not alright in the other?”
The radio station’s owner the Australian Radio Network told ABC it had been notified there was no breach of the Commercial Radio Australia Codes of Practice and was satisfied with the outcome.
Mr Depp’s pet dogs were eventually deported to the US within the prescribed time-frame but the incident also resulted in an investigation by the Federal Agriculture Department.
A Department Spokesperson said on July 14, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) served Mr Depp’s wife, Amber Heard, with a summons over the biosecurity breach.
“The CDPP’s action follows an incident where a biosecurity officer attended a Gold Coast property in April and found two dogs alleged to be illegally imported,” the spokesperson said.
“All animals entering Australia must have an import permit, and have undergone relevant testing and health checks signed off by a government veterinarian from the exporting country to ensure pests and diseases from overseas are not brought here.”
Reports have said Ms Heard will answer two charges of illegal importation and one count of producing a false document (the incoming passenger card) and could face up to 10 years jail or $100,000 fine, if found guilty.
At the time of the dogs being deported, Mr Joyce said despite the hype and sensation surrounding their owners, Australia had strict biosecurity requirements for good reason - to protect Australia from exotic pests and diseases “that can seriously harm humans, animals and our economy”.
“This situation has highlighted that most Australians understand the importance of biosecurity and that all animals entering Australia must have an import permit, which is only issued after confirmation that pre-export requirements have been met,” he said.