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Sandilands: offensive, and more

By Helen Pringle - posted Monday, 5 December 2011


Kyle Sandilands has received a trouncing over the last few days for being rude and offensive. But criticisms of his behaviour on the grounds of offensiveness miss the mark in regard to the latest incident involving him and his chef de claque. Sandilands certainly takes delight in trying to give offence, although when called out, he excuses himself by saying that he is just doin’ what comes naturally. But giving offence is not the same as practising discrimination, and that is what should be the focus in the current controversy.

Various corporations have withdrawn their advertising from Sandilands’ program on 2Day FM. This is likely to have the same effect as the last time they withdrew their advertising in 2009. At that time, Sandilands was taken off air by the umbrella company Austereo, which announced that it was conducting ‘a review of the principals [sic] and protocols of our interaction with our audience’. Review concluded, Sandilands and Jackie O simply picked up where they had left off, and the advertisers returned.


Along with his old tricks, Sandilands resumed making his tired old excuses. In response to criticism of his recent intimidation of Alison Stephenson, for example, Sandilands fell back on the well-worn cliché with which many Australians defend or excuse racist and sexist behaviour. It goes like this: I am not racist or sexist because my rudeness, stupidity and offensiveness are indiscriminate, and are not just directed against non-whites or non-men. Sandilands stated his deep commitment to equality along these very lines:

We live in a country of free speech, you’re allowed to say what you want and so am I. Whether you’re male, whether you’re female. I treat everyone equally. It doesn’t matter your gender, your race, your sexual preference, you’re equal as far as I’m concerned. If we’re all really equal, how can these people bring up these things and turn it into such a male versus female thing? It is pathetic, grubby journalism. And I’m really surprised that all the TV stations got fooled by one news organisation that I was some sort of woman hater.

This is textbook Sandilands. His defenders and even some of his critics likewise claim that his sole ‘crime’ is that he is in (very) bad taste. And on that basis Sandilands rails against the ‘fun police’ who would curb his appetite for mucking up and ruffling the feathers of bourgeois good taste in Australia. Charles Purcell conjectures that ‘Castigating Kyle has become a form of “bogan bashing”, to be heard at many a comfortable gathering, a shared hatred of him being not only a sign of good taste but the price of cultural admission.’

I don’t want to underestimate Sandilands’ general stupidity, of which I have personal experience. Several years ago, a 13 year-old former schoolmate of my son left a message for him on our phone. The message purported to be left by a DOCS officer concerned that my son’s mother (me) was sexually abusing him. Our answering service recorded both the time the call was made (while the boy was on lunch break at an inner-city and very un-boganish private school) and the boy’s mobile number. The boy’s father made light of the matter, claiming that it was simply a ‘prank’ to which his child had been dared by a radio program, egged on by his ‘friends’. At the time I thought that this was a particularly lame fib told by the child to cover for his own behavior, but it was later pointed out to me by police that such pranks are a part of the ‘Desperate Acts’ contest in the Kyle & Jackie O show, for which there is (or was) a prize of $1000. The boy who was incited to play this ‘prank’ was one of 100,000 children aged between 10 and 17 years who listen to 2Day FM in the morning, as recorded by the October Nielsen survey.

Propagandists for the current state of the media regularly inform Australians that children are ‘media savvy’, and are not passive or gullible media consumers. There is no question that Sandilands goes out of his way to cultivate active consumers, but he also cultivates and rewards their gullibility. ‘If you don’t like it, turn it off’, the worn-out argument about free speech goes. Much as I would like to, I can’t turn off the radio of that gullible schoolboy and his parents.

Moreover, ‘turning it off’ might be some kind of lame response to offence, but it is not in any way an effective or appropriate response to discrimination.


Sandilands likes to add a touch of Benny Hill to his use of race or gender stereotypes, apparently on the mistaken idea that it can’t be discrimination if it is a sleazy joke. Sandilands and Jackie O’s 2010 conversation with some former girlfriends of Tiger Woods is typical in this respect:

At one point, Jackie O asked Devon James about how Woods ranked as a lover, and about the size of his penis. ‘Because we heard that he’s, like, massive, like a donkey, is that right?’ asked Sandilands. Ms James replied: ‘Yeah, I’d agree.’ Sandilands added: ‘Were you surprised, [saying] “Man, you’re half Asian, half black, obviously the half black is what’s going on downstairs”?’ The women were later encouraged to make a drawing of Woods’s genitals, which was posted on 2Day FM’s website.

This is offensive. But its offensiveness works in a different way from someone picking their nose, spitting, or saying ‘fuck’. The reason this conversation goes beyond mere offence to all and sundry is that its work of insult or humiliation ‘is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin’ of Woods, and draws directly on discriminatory stereotypes about black men and about Asian men. Being offensive generally is no defence to being offensive on racial grounds. In defining discrimination, for example, the Racial Discrimination Act provides no exemptions for personal rudeness or stupidity. It is no excuse under the Act that, in addition to performing an act or a speech-act of racial discrimination, a person adopts a general practice of rudeness.

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About the Author

Helen Pringle is in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales. Her research has been widely recognised by awards from Princeton University, the Fulbright Foundation, the Australian Federation of University Women, and the Universities of Adelaide, Wollongong and NSW. Her main fields of expertise are human rights, ethics in public life, and political theory.

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