<em>Illustration: Cathy Wilcox</em>

Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

AUSTRALIA'S media watchdog has been forced to defend its decision to stop short of banning controversial radio presenter Kyle Sandilands from making demeaning comments about women and girls.

Despite warning in March it would ban derogatory comments about women on 2DayFM, the Australian Communications and Media Authority yesterday issued a watered down ruling aimed at stamping out generally offensive content.

Its tough stance earlier this year followed its investigation into Sandilands, who, on air, called a female journalist who had reviewed his TV show unfavourably a ''fat slag'' and a ''piece of shit''.

But the media regulator has opted for a rule that had a better chance of enforcement following intense negotiations with 2Day's owner, Southern Cross Austereo, over the wording of the new condition.

An ACMA spokeswoman confirmed the station had made representations to the authority but would not discuss the content.

In a submission to ACMA Southern Cross argued the rules on derogatory remarks should be struck out because they were too subjective and unenforceable.

The chairman of ACMA, Chris Chapman, yesterday rejected any suggestions the authority had backed down, saying the new licence condition was the toughest that could be imposed and was carefully designed to be enforceable should the licensee appeal against it.

''This is the toughest position that could be imposed on the licensee concerning matters of decency and applies regardless of gender. It's 24/7 for five years right across their schedule, no exceptions,'' he said.

The final condition stands for the next five years and applies to the station, not individuals. Programs must not breach accepted standards of decency among the station's core listeners. If they do the authority can take action against the station that might lead to a fine and eventually to the removal of its licence, though the latter is unprecedented.

Media lawyers said the revised wording was better, but far from perfect. Former Mediawatch host and media barrister Stuart Littlemore said: ''The original condition would never have worked. It was a ridiculous presumption that you couldn't say anything derogatory about women. What about men?''

Southern Cross has flagged that it may appeal.