Sydney radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands shows all the signs of being a classic bully, but it is hard to argue he is an entirely self-made one.
For although he’s bright enough to be a successful bully – just bright enough to be dangerous, as the saying goes – he has had considerable help along the road to being a thoroughly unlikable tormentor.
One does not need to probe his childhood, ask whether he was picked on at school or discover deep feelings of inadequacy to see who the real culprits behind his arrogant, self-centred construct are.
The real guilty parties are – in no particular order – the radio station 2DAY FM who pay him a multi-million dollar salary, the million or so Sydney-listeners who allegedly tune in each week to his ‘Kyle and Jackie O Show’ and the advertisers who are now appearing so shocked by his latest outrage that they are withdrawing their financial support for the show.
Clearly they were quite happy to support and thereby encourage his constant petty bullying and frequent major transgression, childish on-air tantrums and bizarre prognostications when the going was good, when they were all making money from his self-styled “controversial” rants. And when he crossed the line yet again, this time with crass accusations that TV critic Alison Stephenson was “a fat slag”, a “fat bitter thing”, a “low life”, a “troll” and “a piece of shit”, they suddenly realised, according to car giant Holden: “Recent comments made on the Kyle and Jackie O breakfast show do not in any way reflect the views or opinions of Holden.”
Where, exactly, had Holden and the other 2DAY FM advertisers been for the past few years?
One did not need to be a media professional or even listen to Sandilands’ show to realise his “controversial” views were always simply a hair’s breadth away from revealing the true bully beneath the bull. His record of what Sydney Morning Herald columnist Deborah Snow called “the 40-year-old’s penchant for on-air thuggery” was there for all to see and hear.
As various members of the media have chronicled over the years, Sandilands was so abusive about magazine columnist Fiona Connolly he had to be banned from mentioning her on-air. He said comedian Magda Szubanski should go to a concentration camp to lose weight and that Tiger Woods was endowed “like a donkey”, with the black part of his mixed-race heritage “going on downstairs”.
Perhaps the lowest point in a career that could be measured with a depth-sounder was when he strapped a 14-year-old rape victim to a lie detector on air and quizzed her about her sex life.
This mind-boggling transgression did earn the station a slap on the wrist from the regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority but no-one – including the ACMA – seemed prepared to call a halt to Sandilands’ increasingly bizarre and offensive behaviour. Certainly the advertisers did not. The roll call of those now pulling their advertising from his show – in some cases just to move it to another slot on 2DAY FM – now reads increasingly like a roll of shame.
As well as Holden, so far the media have named Telstra, Vodafone, Medibank, Blackmores, Crazy John’s, Harvey Norman, The Good Guys, Goldmark Jewellers, Fantastic Furniture, Beaurepaires, American Express, Ford, Lexus, BlackBerry, Olympus, Coles Online, GIO Australia Insurance, Qantas, Mitsubishi and Piazza Doro. They also include the Federal Government itself, through its buying agency Universal McCann, who only last month settled a sex discrimination case brought by a former female director.
While lauded as the right thing to do, the action of the major corporations in pulling their advertising dollars was perhaps best summarised by Girl PR’s owner Juliet Potter, who told Mumbrella that their client Goldmark’s decision to drop Sandilands was “too little too late.”
The fact that Sandilands’ most high profile transgressions seem to be aimed at women and minorities are classic symptoms of the bully. Critics might have more sympathy with Sandilands’ and his supporters’ contention that he is simply stirring things up if he actually picked on someone his own considerable size. As it is, he leaves his critics speechless and wondering exactly what it might take to silence this overgrown child. His latest tirade against Stephenson that “you haven’t got that much titty to be wearing that low cut a blouse” with the chilling threat “I will hunt you down” was made around White Ribbon Day, when people around Australia stand up against denigration and abuse of women and girls.
TV show host and White Ribbon Day Chairman Andrew O’Keefe said: “The way that we talk about people really defines the way we think about people” while writer Ben Eltham tweeted: “Austereo, you simply have to fire Kyle Sandilands. His behaviour is unacceptable in Australia in 2011.”
Sandilands himself, while apparently surprised he got into so much hot water over what was, for him, not such unusual behaviour, defended his outbursts as free speech.
The Herald Sun article quoted him as saying: “We live in a country of free speech, you’re allowed to say what you want – and so am I.”
Which would be fine if he was ranting and raving in the privacy of his own home.
But Sandilands and 2DAY FM are the beneficiaries of publicly-owned radio spectrum, a limited resource which can bestow great power and therefore demands from its licensees great responsibility. It is not enough for his supporters to suggest that people who object should “tune out”, and such a response does not address the problem of children “tuning in”. Without the kind of classification system applied to television, radio can still broadcast at any time of day or night material such as Sandilands’ latest foul-mouthed diatribe, which would require an M or even MA rating were it on TV.
And if Sandilands was not so self-obsessed he would know there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech. Society places all kinds of cultural and legal constraints on what we can say, including about what people with power can say about those they pick on to victimise.
American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr famously said: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”
Neither should it protect bullies using publicly-owned airwaves to voice their vicious pathologies.
[This article was originally published in DogBitesMan.net in November 2011.]
Photo Source: 2DAY FM