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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Andy Muirhead case - ABC overreacts

Andy Muirhead, a popular Australian television compere, comedian, and radio broadcaster, has been charged with accessing child pornography.

In response, the ABC has placed him on leave without pay (effectively suspending his employment), suspended his TV show, The Collectors, including at least one episode that has already been taped, and even taken down the show's website.

Muirhead may well be guilty, though he is presumed innocent in the courts. A charge like that brought against him is of such a nature as to bring the accused's employer into disrepute, especially when it's a managerial employee or one who provides a public face for the employer. Muirhead fits into the latter category, so I'll have no problem with it if they fire him in response to a guilty verdict (and they can hardly continue to employ him if he goes to jail). Also, this charge is not the sort of thing they can investigate themselves, when the evidence is in police hands - it's not as if it were something simple like punching his boss in the pub. So I don't think it would be fair for them to fire him at this stage. Sending him off on leave without pay may be a reasonable compromise, and perhaps accords with their policy and the terms of his contract.

No solution is entirely fair in these circumstances, but I'm the last person to deny that employers, as well as employees, have legitimate interests. Muirhead probably agreed in advance that this is how any such incident would be handled, and some of the reports talk as if going on leave without pay was his initiative. There might even be an agreement with his union to handle such things in this way. It's a little bit murky, but I'm basically cool with it.

But why refuse to show episodes that are already taped? Why suspend the entire show? This seems enormously unfair to the show's other presenters, whose careers will be harmed by it. Whatever Muirhead has done, it's hardly their fault. Surely one of them could step up and compere The Collectors in Muirhead's absence, or another compere could be found within the ABC. And why delete the show's website as if it doesn't even exist? This all seems like magical thinking, as if the show and all associated with it have now been polluted. Perhaps that's how ABC managers think the public will react, but will it? It seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why would they not react with worry about the careers of other (much-loved) people on the show - careers that Muirhead has jeopardised if he's guilty?

It looks to me as if the ABC has overreacted. Perhaps that's to be expected as soon as anything to do with pedophilia becomes public. What do you think?


a work in progress said...

i too was surprised that the show has been taken off air. like you, i thought someone else would have been able to step up to the compere's plate...

in attempting to distance itself from Muirhead the ABC is showing itself to be something of an ostrich. denying the existence of something does not mean it ceases to exist...

interesting blog topic Russell.

jon said...

Like their response to the Chaser "controversy" last year, and indeed like The Age's response to Catherine Deveny's "twitter outrage" of several months ago, over-reaction is the minimum it seems we can expect in anything to do with children these days.

Terry Talks Movies said...

They also erased the web site for his ABC radio show with just a "the page you're looking for does not exist" error message. I think the better approach would be a brief note along the lines of "This page has been suspended during the course of legal proceedings involving Andy Muirhead. Thank you for your interest and understanding".

Anonymous said...

Russell, I feel similarly. I suppose one thing is that they may have felt a bit tender , all of them , and the hosts may all have wanted the other night's episode pulled. Also, and this isn't a black joke, but they were featuring Mr Squiggle of all things! so, umm...err..a bit tricky.

I was thinking to myself, why can't they just be truthful instrad of all the self-censoring and turning us into Edwardian children? why can't we all be more adult? what's to stop them saying something like this, and on the show? : "AM is being investigated, as you all know
we wish him well, we support his family, it's awful but please don't convict him before he's been before the courts; its a legal isssue. Now let's get on with things..."

Svlad Cjelli said...

Obviously, if they burn everything he's ever touched, the scandal will never have occurred.

Christian Munthe said...

I've just browsed the news on this case, but I understand the ABC reaction given the opinion climate. Certain allegations are more "stickily" stigmatising than others - and in the case of child pornography, for good reasons. ABC is a business and is simply protecting its brand in this particular opinion climate. Had said climate been different, ABC would have acted differently, so there's no reason to ascribe to ABC any particular moral qualities - it's just prudent business reasoning.

However, I do think that the sticky stigma surrounding pedophilia, child pornography, trafficking and similar crimes is a good thing in that it indicates openly expressed sound social attitudes to these things, rather than the sort of "hush-hush, don't talk about it unless perhaps if it's happening abroad" attitude that's been prevailing for many decades before these problems were addressed openly in developed societies.

Ramases said...

Thanks Russell,

I agree with you completely on the main issue - I don't think the show should have been dropped on account of these charges, and it seems to be an over reaction for the ABC to have done so. If the show was worthwhile and had an audience it should continue.

Furthermore, I strongly believe that if Andy Muirhead is found not guilty he should be re-instated. I am sick of hearing that in cases like this a career is over no matter what the outcome, or a life ruined whether guilty or not guilty. While I deplore child abuse of any kind, guilty is guilty and innocent is innocent. I am sick of the shock jock sensationalism around cases such as this.

If he is found not guilty it would be great to see the ABC taking a stand and saying innocent is innocent. That really would be a blow for human rights!

Of course, I can think of an entirely different reason for the show to be taken off the air.

It's crap. Boring as a toothache in hell. Totally without substance or interest of any kind. As interesting as a debate about a public servant’s allocated parking space. Did anyone actually WATCH it??? Surely not? I guess some must have, although I will never figure out why. I'd rather be watching eggs boil.

Still, principles are principles, and they should apply to one of the worst shows on television as much to the best.

Closing the show for the reasons the ABC did was the wrong thing to do.

CaptainReality said...

Posted by Christian:

"ABC is a business"

Oh really? A business that's wholly owned and funded by the government and makes no profit. By that standard, the Australian Army is a business. Absurd.

If the ABC truly were a business, owned by private citizens and not funded by the state, it could delete or pull whatever shows it wants as long as it complies with relevant laws and any contracts it has signed.

As the ABC is actually a propaganda arm of the Australian Government, their 'deletion' of Mr Muirhead is disturbing given he has not yet been convicted.