Richard Ackland joins our team as diarist-at-large Gadfly.

By Richard Ackland.

Dogging the ABC

A lousy $35,000 damages for calling Chris Kenny a dog-fucker. Oracles as sage as Paul Barry and David Marr have reported the $35,000 figure – agreed in a secret tryst with the ABC. Surely, this tireless watchdog of the public broadcaster’s standards deserves more. After all, another Murdoch hack, Ray Chesterton, received in 2010 an award of damages of $90,000 after the ancient 2UE radio man John Laws called him “Ankles”.

Ray pleaded that the on-air spray gave rise to meanings that he was “a creep and a bombastic, beer-bellied buffoon”. There is also a special meaning for “Ankles” that cannot be explained in a family newspaper.

But none of those meanings were anywhere as diabolical as “dog-fucker”.

Still, the judge said Ray’s damages should be at “the bottom of the range”. If $90,000 is at the bottom, where’s $35,000? Below the Ankles.

At least the ABC didn’t call Kenny a “caring potato”, which is what it called Pauline Hanson. Actually it broadcast a song on Triple J, composed by the satirical character Pauline Pantsdown (aka Simon Hunt) which contained the dreadful insult “caring potato”. The real Pauline sued.

One can see why the ABC might have wanted to settle the Kenny case. When it comes to defending satire, things can zoom quickly out of control.

In the Queensland Supreme Court Ms Hanson argued “potato” had a special meaning: “a homosexual male of European descent who has a sexual preference for males of Asian descent”.

Justice Roslyn Atkinson, who has an honours degree in English literature, hadn’t heard of this. Dictionaries were called for.

Poring over the Macquarie Dictionary the judge discovered “potato” could be “potato peeler” – sheila – or “an edible tuber of a cultivated plant”.

Please explain.

1 . Dancing to the beat of Peta’s drum

We understand perfectly the dread Peta Credlin casts over the jelly babies of the Abbott government.

Credlin is the great enforcer of the inner circle. Apparently she was practising for this role at a relatively early stage.

Journalist and author Brigid Delaney has written Wild Things, a novel about university college life.

The cover blurb sets the scene: “Dark, dangerous, bloody and visceral, this is a story of power, prestige and the pack mentality that forms the underbelly of campus life at an elite university.”

To a considerable extent, Delaney drew on her own experiences at Melbourne University’s Catholic institution, Newman College.

This is where fresher Delaney first struck senior girl Peta Credlin, going through the paces of her enforcer routine:

“We all lined up in a quadrangle and these limousines pulled up and people got out dressed in academic gowns and sunglasses who were extremely threatening, screaming at us. One of them was Peta Credlin. I have never been able to watch her on TV since without shivering.”

For a lass from the bush, Brigid found this bossy-boots hierarchy daunting. Among other things, Credlin had one of the freshers perform a rap dedicated to her. “If Peta Credlin turns up in a gown and orders you to do something ridiculous,” Delaney recalled, “you are going to do it.”

This must – at least in part – explain why ministers are doing such odd things.

2 . Smiles and stares

To the Federal Court for the jam-packed launch of journalist Michael Pelly’s biography of former chief justice Murray “The Smiler” Gleeson.

Every old trout in the Sydney legal establishment turned up. Wheelchairs and Zimmer frames crammed the passageways.

Smiler’s daughter Justice Jacqueline Gleeson welcomed us to the court, saying the book “peers into the vortex that Murray would call his soul”.

ABC chairman Jim Spigelman did the launch speech, in which he referred to Gleeson’s blood-chilling stare.

“The Stare” was so powerful that counsel would withdraw questions or abstain from objections, simply by being stared at. It cut down the appeal points no end.

However, if you think The Smiler is the master of demolition, you haven’t met his wife, Robyn Gleeson.

When Murray was appointed to the High Court, her reaction wasn’t enthusiastic: “I know that he kind of thought, ‘I’ve had enough of being Chief Justice of NSW’, and I had had enough of it. My only encounter with the High Court was in Melbourne [in 1963] and I thought I had never come across such rude people.”

3 . No beer for bigots

The show trial season, aka senate estimates, has been under way in Canberra.

One of the main attractions was the appearance of “Freedom Boy”, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, at the legal affairs committee.

Senator Lisa Singh (ALP, Tas) asked the wordy Wilson whether people have the right to be bigots. The answer was not entirely straightforward. A little bit of yes and no, it depends on the limitations, but freedom of speech is a broad concept, blah, blah.

However, scratching back through the files I’m sure that Timbo had already answered that question in a previous session with the senate committee early last year.

There it was. He was asked whether there should be a law that would prevent a publican telling an Aboriginal person: “We do not serve blacks here.”

His instructive reply: “Part of the unintended consequence of anti-discrimination laws is that, by not allowing that person to show their bigotry and their hatred towards somebody else, the public cannot boycott that venue and hold people to account for their conduct.”

The committee failed to explore what would happen if it were the only pub in town.

4 . A criminal case of mistaken identity

It was thrilling of the ABC to run over the two most recent Sundays the famed 1922 German expressionist horror film Nosferatu.

This masterpiece was an early adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula ... and there it was on our small screens.

Or was it?

Uncertainty mounted. Could it be a misprint in the TV guide, which claimed the show was John Silvester’s Trigger Point, where crusty Victorian coppers dragged out their showreels, explaining how they shot dead various lags and crims?

Yet, I could have sworn it was Nosferatu fronting the program.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 14, 2014 as "Gadfly: Dogging the ABC".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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