Australia

ABC comedy sketch 'crossed a line': Minister

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It is the second time in recent months the Communications Minister has criticised a decision by the ABC.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has again hit out at the ABC, this time over a comedy sketch in which a candidate for the Australian Conservatives was referred to as a c--t, saying the piece "clearly crossed a line".

Last week the satirical Tonightly program, which airs on ABC Comedy, featured a segment on the Batman by-election and the electorate's namesake, John Batman.

Mr Batman, a grazier and colonialist, is a controversial historical figure due to his treatment of the Aboriginal inhabitants of the area that subsequently became Melbourne, and there have been calls for the electorate to be renamed.

The Tonightly segment suggested that the electorate of Batman be renamed "Batman-was-a-c--t" and then went on to display doctored corflutes for the by-election's actual candidates bearing that new name, such as "Ged Kearney: Labor for Batman-was-a-c--t."

When the corflute for Australian Conservatives' candidate Kevin Bailey was displayed, Tonightly comedian Greg Larsen pointed out the word Batman did not actually appear on the poster, so he had to "improvise".

Greg Larsen and Ballard discussing the Batman by-election on Tonightly.
Greg Larsen and Ballard discussing the Batman by-election on Tonightly.
Screenshot/ABC Comedy

A doctored version of Mr Bailey's poster then flashed on screen, which read "Kevin Bailey is a c--t". Host Tom Ballard immediately shouted "no you can't do that, take that down immediately," as the studio audience laughed.

Senator Cory Bernardi, who is also the founder of the Australian Conservatives, released a statement on Tuesday saying he had written to ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie to complain about the segment and demand an apology.

The altered poster with the offending word obscured.
The altered poster with the offending word obscured.
Screenshot/ABC Comedy

"This attack goes far beyond satire, is completely unacceptable and warrants not only an apology from Mr Ballard and Mr Larsen but also from the ABC for allowing it to go to air," Mr Bernardi wrote.

That call appeared to be backed up by the federal communications minister, who made a similar statement on Tuesday afternoon. 

"Candidates for elected office expect to be criticised and parodied," the minister, Mitch Fifield, wrote on Twitter.

"But this ABC segment clearly crossed a line, particularly given that it was directed towards an individual who has served his nation in uniform."

A spokesman for the ABC said the national broadcaster "will respond to the Minister and Senator Bernardi in due course."

Mr Fifield criticised the ABC in 2017 over a decision by youth radio station Triple J to move the date of the Hottest 100 from Australia Day. Mr Fifield said in November he would formally ask the ABC's board to "reconsider" that decision. 

“This is just a really bad idea, it’s a dumb idea and Triple J should change their mind,” he said.

“This is an attempt to delegitimise Australia Day. Australia Day is January 26. That’s not going to change. It’s not going anywhere."

The 2017 Hottest 100 went on to record the highest number of votes ever.

 

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