It's official: Australians can call their elected representatives “wankers” on air, as long as they mean it as a term of abuse rather than a literal description of their sexual activity.
That's the conclusion of an investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which as well as managing spectrum licenses, is also the enforcer of public decency on our broadcasters.
A complaint was taken to the ACMA by bumpkin MP Barnaby Joyce of the National Party, currently agriculture minister in the federal government.
Following a furore in which Johnny Depp smuggled some pooches past customs in May, Joyce threatened that if the dogs weren't removed, they'd be put down.
In the general outrage that followed, shock-jock Kyle Sandilands and Joyce got into something of a spat, live on air. Sandilands called Joyce a “clown”, which Joyce tossed back to Sandilands as “the number one clown on radio”
In the inevitable escalation, Sandilands ended the call with “What a wanker. See ya later. What a loser.”
Joyce lodged a complaint with the ACMA about his treatment on-air, and because “wanker” fell outside “generally accepted standards of decency”.
Regarding “wanker”, here's what the ACMA decided referred to the Macquarie Dictionary to find that it means:
Noun Colloquial (taboo)
- 1. Someone who masturbates.
- 2. A foolish or objectionable person.
- 3. A self-indulgent or egotistical person1.
“The ACMA accepts the licensee’s submission that the use of the word was not sexual in nature. In this case it was used consistent with the second and third definitions above … it is considered that the program’s regular listeners would understand the word is used in the ‘Australian vernacular’.”
Sandilands had also called Joyce “a gerbil of a thing”, about which the ACMA had this to say: “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.” ®