Jailbroken: Has Lawsie lost it? | radioinfo

Jailbroken: Has Lawsie lost it?

Monday 11 May, 2015

Comment from Peter Saxon

This article was first published on April 1, 2014 and is now unlocked.

My late father was my hero. When he bought our first family car, a rapidly ageing second hand FX Holden, I was in awe of his ability to handle what seemed to me, as a child, to be a mindbogglingly complex piece of machinery. What’s more, he could navigate his way around the higgledy piggledy streets of Sydney. Master of the road rules, he freely offered extravagantly gesticulated advice to those drivers who, in his opinion, were less knowledgeable than he. 

For more than 60 years, his car personified him as a free male. But by the time he turned 80 it became clear that he was no longer fit to drive. His reactions had slowed. His eyesight had dimmed. On a couple of occasions he’d become lost and disoriented on once familiar roads.

It was the worst day ever in our relationship when I had to explain to him that he could no longer drive. He’d failed his mandatory test for 80 year olds and his licence had been cancelled. He was devastated when I took his car keys. He felt that his own son had stolen the last vestiges of his manhood. I felt like shit. But it had to be done. He’d become a danger to himself and other road users.

For similar reasons, It gives me no pleasure to suggest that it’s time John Laws turned off the golden microphone for good before he ruins his own legacy as perhaps the greatest radio announcer that ever lived and instead is remembered as a gaffe prone dinasaur that stayed too long in the swamp.

Personally, I’d hate to see that happen. To me, he is the Muhammad Ali of the microphone. But as Lawsie nears his 80th birthday it is clear that he is losing his touch. Which would be okay if it was only his own career he was damaging. But it’s not.

The other week, on 2SM, Laws took a call from “Brian” who had suffered sexual abuse as a child in the 1930s. He seemed to show little empathy for the man’s plight and the suffering he’d endured physically back then and psychologically in all the years since.

Laws attitude suggested that ‘Brian' should just get over it, describing him as a "wet blanket” he told him to "brighten up.” At one point he even told him to “...go to the pub and have a lemonade for God’s sake.”

In the face of sharp criticism from abuse victims’ advocacy groups, Laws went on the defensive. He told Sharri Markson in The Australian, “Of course I have empathy and sympathy for people who have suffered, and great disdain for ­pedophiles.

“Of course I do and I have much more experience in that area than people know. I was either 11 or 12. I was a child. It was in a public lavatory at Mosman Oval. I didn’t know the person. I was disturbed. I took off. I ran. But I made it very clear that I didn’t appreciate it. I would have shouted and yelled.”

Laws said the way he spoke to Brian (who, when asked, admitted that he didn’t scream and yell) and the advice he gave him on air was “tough love” and indicates how he had responded in a similar situation.

A similar situation? You can’t be serious. Kids are bound to react in different ways to a sexual aggressor that turns up out of nowhere. Just because Laws has been able to “tough” it out doesn’t mean Brian could or should. Besides, there’s a vast difference between one incident with a stranger and ongoing abuse from an authority figure/s over an extended period of time. What’s the purpose in giving Brian “tough love” now, when he is 79? Is Laws offering him advice in case he is sexually abused again?

Brian is not the first to encounter the wrong side of John Laws. In March 2013 he put 44 year old “Carol” to air who told him she was the victim of sexual abuse between the ages of six and 16. Laws proceeded to ask the woman if the abuse was in some way “her fault” and whether she had been “provocative” in any way. The woman protested that she was only a little girl at the time. How could she be accused of being provocative? The following day Laws told his listeners that women who dressed provocatively were once viewed as "rape bait.”

On this occasion too, Laws tried to defend himself telling the SMH that he believed he had not breached any commercial radio guidelines. “I've been doing this for 55 years,” he said. “Somebody's got their knickers in a knot about one telephone call that occurred with the agreement of the caller that it should be broadcast.”

In his heyday, during the latter part of last century, Laws might have got away with his attitude to child sexual abuse victims. In fact, back in the 1970’s, when homosexuality was still stigmatised, child abuse was a completely taboo subject. With his keen sense of the sexual mores of the day, in all likelihood, Laws would not have put these callers to air.

But that once infallible instinct to read the tea leaves of social norms has deserted him. Sure, Lawsie with his “fortress of irreverent logic” has a been champion of free speech and a formidable foe of political correctness. In most cases, laudably so.

However, the organisations that represents victims of child sexual abuse cannot be dismissed as merely “a bunch of do-gooders,” as Laws often likes to say. Child abuse victims, like war veterans, can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives. And they can’t “just get over it.” “Tough love,” rarely works.

In both the cases outlined above, John Laws has tried to lay at least some of the blame with the victims. Maybe that goes down okay in Saudi Arabia or the poorest parts of India, but it’s simply not acceptable in Australia in the 21st century.

Karen Willis, executive officer at the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, said she was appalled by Laws' response. “The responsibility of sexual assault is with the offender. Doesn't matter what somebody else does or says, they are not inviting somebody else to sexually assault them.” 

Especially a child.

Once upon a time people contemplating suicide would call the John Laws show as a last resort. Back then, “Golden Tonsils” had the touch to talk them back from the ledge while sending professional help. Times have changed. Laws hasn’t. Now it seems he’s out of touch. He’s saving no one with his remarks.

 Peter Saxon

Below are the results of a recent survey we did among radioinfo readers in an earlier story on Laws. Out of 157 responses, a narrow majority agree it's time for Laws to go.





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