On 6 May 2011 the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) received an unresolved
complaint regarding a segment of the program Just for Laughs: Montreal International Comedy Festival broadcast on 30 March 2011 by Network TEN.
The complainant considers the segment's content was offensive and vilified the Pope and the Catholic community. The complainant was not satisfied with the response of the licensee and referred the matter to the ACMA for investigation.
Just for Laughs: Montreal International Comedy Festival is a one-month comedy festival that occurs annually in Montreal, Canada, and features a cast of worldwide stand up comedians and comedic performances.
The segment complained about was a short highlight clip presented in the lead up to a performance by Australian comedian and entertainer, Tim Minchin. The clip ran for 1 minute and 34 seconds and featured an interview between Paul McDermott and
Tim Minchin, and a 12 second excerpt of a song clip produced by Tim Minchin entitled Fuck the Pope . The song clip contained animations of caricatures representing the Pope dancing together with other clergy. The interview included:
Paul McDermott: How is Fuck the Pope going by the way?
Tim Minchin : It's good.
PM : I saw about 2 seconds of it on YouTube when it went up, and then it went into forbidden ... you know zone .
TM : Yeah forbidden zone .
Song excerpt : There are other fucking songs there are other fucking ways I'll be a religious apologist on other fucking days. The fact remains if you protect a single kid fucker, then pope or prince or plumber you're a fucking mother
PM : That's a lovely little animation you've got. Who did that?
TM : Yes, a guy called Frasier Davidson, he's a brilliant animator. And I wrote that song in the peak of another wave of allegations and I was feeling furious, the way you do. Um I wrote that song, and I thought, I'll never be able to play
that live. It's kind of, it's just going to have to be a viral thing. So I got it animated. But I did the Hay on Wye festival which is a book festival, so it was a very intellectual audience and I got a mid-song standing ovation which I've
never had before.
ACMA Finding: Not in breach of the code
There is no question that the song expressed derision and scorn towards the Pope and clergy. This is evident from the title of the song; the subject of the song; the reference in the song to anybody that protect[s] a single kid fucker being
a fucking motherfucker ; and repetitive use of the term fucking . The delegate appreciates the complainant was personally offended by the broadcast and that its contents would also have caused offence to members of the public,
including of the Catholic community.
The song excerpt and comments are made in the context of an interview with the comedian who openly opposes the stance that the Pope publicly took regarding recent allegations of child sexual abuse against the Catholic clergy. The segment does not
engage the audience in a discussion on the beliefs or religious practices of the Pope, the Catholic clergy or of the Catholic community. The ordinary, reasonable viewer would understand that the references to the Pope and the Catholic
clergy were part of the moral of the song, which applied to perpetrators of child abuse generally, and to those who cover it up.
Furthermore, it is noted that the song excerpt was brief (12 seconds in a 1 minutes and 34 second segment). Although the language included the terms fucker and motherfucker , and repeated use of the word fucking , the
accompanying animated visuals were mild. The commentary surrounding the song was an explanation of the production and performance, including an acknowledgement of its controversial nature, which overall served to ameliorate the severity of tone
expressed by the song in segment:
It is unlikely the segment (notwithstanding the language in the song directed at the Pope), was so harsh or extreme that it would perpetuate or provoke severe ridicule, intense dislike or serious contempt against the Pope, or Catholics on the
grounds of religion. For these reasons, the delegate is of the view that in the circumstances of this broadcast, the material complained about has not breached clause 1.9.6 of the Code.