November 27th 2010

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The Greens' agenda, in their own words

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Lacklustre Gillard under fire from her own party

DIVORCE LAWS: Gillard Govt to curb fathers' access to shared custody

EDITORIAL: Why Labor could lose Victoria

CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS: New Zealand's experience with indigenous land claims

GLOBAL ECONOMY I: Ireland's woes show depth of financial crisis

GLOBAL ECONOMY II: Currency wars and the rise of China

KOREAN WAR: 60th anniversary of a nasty but necessary war

MEDIA: ABC denigrates former ASIO director-general

NEW SOUTH WALES: Tribunal rejects homosexual vilification complaint

HISTORY: Euthanasia foundational to Nazi program

OPINION: The difference between conservatism and Labor


BOOK REVIEW: COLONIAL COUSINS: A Surprising History of Connections between India and Australia

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Tribunal rejects homosexual vilification complaint

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, November 27, 2010
A homosexual vilification complaint by prominent homosexual activist, Gary Burns, against Channel 9's Footy Show has been rejected by the New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal.

Mr Burns lodged a complaint about a skit on the show about the family of two panellists on the show, Andrew and Matthew Johns. The skit referred to a fictitious third brother in the family, "Elton Johns", who was homosexual and could not play football.

The segment was undoubtedly in extremely poor taste.

In its decision, the Tribunal said: "The family in the skit were not accepting of 'Elton'. Matthew Johns (playing himself) talked about his happy childhood and the close-knit family, with the music of Elton John playing in the background, saying 'Elton never really fit in'. There were references to the young Matthew Johns having difficulties deciding whether to play football or to 'try on Mum's clothing', and Andrew Johns being 'surprised he turned out so straight'.

"The father, Gary, thought he might have been 'switched at birth' and sought to return him to the hospital when he was a young child, saying 'I want to return this, it's faulty'."

At the outset, Channel 9 apologised to Mr Burns for any offence the segment may have caused him, but did not admit liability.

The tribunal found that the skit was intended to be humorous: it was "light-hearted, and did not use any threats or violence".

While parts of the skit "may be seen as offensive or potentially offensive, it is the view of the tribunal that the skit revolved around the writer's and actor's vision of purported characteristics of gay men (flamboyant dressing, inability to play rugby league, 'mincing'). However, it did not have the effect of inciting hatred, or severe ridicule or serious contempt in the reasonable viewer."

The tribunal said this was partly because the way the segment was written referred to the well-known style of the performer Sir Elton John, and portrayed 'Elton Johns' as wearing the same style of clothes and glasses commonly worn by Sir Elton at one point in his career.

Further, in the context of a sports entertainment show, rather than a more serious program, "the content could reasonably be expected to be lightweight".

Accordingly, the tribunal found that the Footy Show did not incite hatred, ridicule or contempt of Mr Burns or other homosexual men.

It quoted approvingly a decision of an appeal panel of the tribunal in 2008, in an earlier case initiated by Mr Burns: "Freedom of speech and expression is not limited to what might be called polite, decent or tasteful expression, but is a freedom which embraces offensive, rude, hostile, derogatory and angry speech or expression, and speech or expression that is tasteless, insensitive and undignified."

The tribunal said there was no evidence that the decision to broadcast the skit was taken in bad faith or unreasonably. It found that, as the segment had appeared on a light entertainment program, the satire evident in it needed to be examined in this context.

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