Comedy giant Barry Humphries died on Saturday 23 April. The ABC should’ve taken off their gender-identity ideology spectacles before they reported this news, but of course they didn’t. So of course they read the room wrong.

Wrong-read 1:

The ABC TV News at 7pm on Sunday 24 April had Ben Knight telling viewers: ‘His legacy was tarnished towards the end of his career after making ugly and hurtful comments about transgender people’. ‘Ugly’? ‘Hurtful’? Hardly the measured dispassionate tone expected of professional journalism and actually required of the ABC under its Code of Practice.

Other media outlets managed to avoid such highly coloured language: for example Australian Associated Press (‘a series of comments widely seen as transphobic’), The Guardian (‘some have been critical of comments …’), and The Age (‘a number of negative comments …’). The ABC could’ve, and should’ve, done likewise.

Wrong-read 2:

Humphries’ ‘tarnished’ legacy. That’s pure Melbourne Comedy Festival narrative. Director Susan Provan was allowed to say, unchallenged, in the 24 April news item: ‘It was a shame that towards the end of his life he certainly lost the ability to read the room’. This is code for failure to kowtow to gender-identity ideology. It was the phrase Hannah Gadsby used in 2019, as she led the attack on Humphries that resulted in the Comedy Festival’s abolition of The Barry as its major award.

In the real world, there’s a goodly lot of people who don’t buy the ‘tarnished legacy’ story, and instead think it’s the Melbourne International Comedy Festival who’ve been tarnished by spurning him. Like Miriam Margolyes, who told the ABC: ‘I don’t think he was properly appreciated by Australia, and I don’t think he was properly treated, particularly by the Melbourne Festival, who cancelled him rather late in life. How dare they!’ and quite a bit more of the same. The ABC suppressed her strong statement from the TV News, including no more than a short and anodyne comment from her. Her robust defence of him was instead relegated to the more obscure realm of the internet and published later.

The ‘tarnished legacy’ is, in other words, a matter of opinion, not a matter of fact, and the ABC should have presented it as such, with some indication that there’s a variety of perspectives on the issue.

Wrong-read 3:

Ignoring Humphries’ own opinion of his treatment by the Comedy Festival. In the days following Humphries’ death, the Comedy Festival faced considerable public outrage over its behaviour towards Humphries and began to backpedal fast. Part of its new narrative was to deny that the Festival had cancelled Humphries – a perspective which, again, the ABC adopted holus-bolus.

On the weekend of Humphries’ death, Irish comedian Graham Linehan published an email Humphries sent him in October 2020, in which Humphries describes himself as having been ‘banned’ by the Comedy Festival.

Linehan’s website publication was picked up by mainstream media round 26 April. By that time, the ABC had already had Susan Provan on air denying that the Festival had cancelled Humphries. And Sammy J, host of the ABC’s Melbourne Radio Breakfast Show, had an opinion piece claiming the same thing published in the ex-Fairfax press. Surely Humphries’ own opinion on what had happened was relevant and newsworthy. But the ABC decided to remain schtumm. To the detriment of its obligation to ‘not unduly favour one perspective over another’ (Standard 4.5 of the Code of Practice).

Right-reads by Humphries on gender-identity ideology

2018 right-reads:

This is what Humphries said in his 2018 Spectator interview with Lloyd Evans, which is what started Gadsby et al on their onslaught against him:

I ask if his biggest crowd-pleaser, Dame Edna Everage, has attracted the attention of trans activists, who are swift to take offence at anything they perceive as transphobic. I take him through their case in detail. They say that more than 40 per cent of trans men and women have attempted or considered suicide and from this they argue that because transphobia is capable of catalysing an act of self-harm it ought to be treated in law as a form of assault. ‘Terrible rat-baggery,’ he says. He calls transgenderism ‘a fashion — how many different kinds of lavatory can you have? And it’s pretty evil when it’s preached to children by crazy teachers’. He recalls provoking a torrent of outrage when he used the word ‘mutilation’ to describe gender-reassignment surgery. ‘They had their genitalia chopped off and tucked in and whatever they had to do. And that aroused a lot of indignation — probably among the people who’d spent a lot of money having it done. But I don’t think I’m right to pontificate. I’m really an actor.’ He proceeds to analyse the psychological frailties of his profession. ‘We’re an uncomfortable mixture of vanity and insecurity. Those two don’t fit comfortably together. But then,’ he says, switching tack, ‘we’re a pretty nice and generous lot too.’

Barry Humphries, 2018 Spectator interview with Lloyd Evans

He quite rightly considered that there’s a lot of alarmism involved in transgender suicide stats. And was rightly concerned about the incursion of gender-identity ideology into school curricula. And the surgical removal of healthy female breasts and male genitalia.

Right-read on JK Rowling:

He added his name to a letter Graham Linehan and Stella O’Malley prepared in support of JK Rowling, defending her against death and rape threats sent to her by trans-extremists. As Linehan put it: ‘We can add “ally to women, friend to the persecuted” to the list of whatever else needs to be said about him.’

Right-read on the nature of gender-identity ideology:

The ‘ “they” brigade’, as he called it, is indeed a ‘powerful and malign foe’. His naming it as such might just turn out to be the best, the very best, legacy he’s left us. And the ABC would be wise to take notice, if it wants to avoid further tarnishing its own legacy and reputation. Already the grumblings amongst its audience are getting louder. For example, critic David Free wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald of how, as he watched the ABC’s obituary on 24 April, he ‘braced’ himself for the ‘reprimand’ that would be coming for Humphries for ‘his recent sins against orthodoxy’. We Australian taxpayers shouldn’t have to be bracing ourselves when we watch ABC News in the expectation of trans propaganda. We should be able to trust that what we’re about to see and hear is accurate, fair reportage. That isn’t happening.

The sooner the ABC breaks free of trans lobby ACON the better.