07 October 2012


Today's announcement by Macquarie Radio Network Executive Chairman Russell Tate regarding the suspension of advertising on the Alan Jones program, after criticism of Jones' nasty comments about the Prime Minister's dead father, is curious to say the least.

Tate indicates that
the nature, tone and volume of the reaction to Jones’ remarks, and in particular the threats being made through social media to companies advertising in Jones' program and the disruption being caused to their businesses, have made it necessary for MRN to call some 'time out'. ...
Alan Jones' audience, those who listen regularly to his program, also agree that his remarks were unacceptable. From research we have conducted over this weekend with them, it is also clear though the great majority acknowledge his apology and have not significantly changed their attitude towards the Alan Jones Breakfast Show.
Importantly, nor is there any indication from regular listeners that their attitudes towards companies advertising in the program has changed adversely.
Since we now know these things to be fact, we have to conclude that the avalanche of telephone, email and facebook demands to our advertisers to "boycott" the Alan Jones Breakfast Show, and the threats to destroy their businesses if they don’t comply, are coming almost entirely from people who do not listen to Alan Jones or 2GB at all – probably never have done and never will.
It is unclear whether failure to be an avid listener disqualifies people from expressing concern about Jones.

Wrapping himself in the flag, Tate goes on the state that
Now in Australia these people of course have the right to express their views to anybody who wants to listen, about any subject they want, including Alan Jones and his radio show. They also have the right and plenty of choice; freedom of choice, to listen to any of the hundreds, in this digital age, thousands of radio programs available to them.
What they do not have the right to do is on the one hand decide for our listeners who and what they are going to hear on the radio station they choose to listen to, and on the other hand decide for Australian based companies which media outlets they will or won’t use to advertise their products and services. They do not have the right to interfere with freedom of choice and they do not have the right to attempt to censor – not Alan Jones, not this radio network, not the people who choose to listen to it and not the companies who choose to advertise on it.
Criticising Jones is, with all respect to Mr Tate, not censorship. The broadcaster and other stations that have have hosted Jones have indulged  a man who has evinced little hesitation in making offensive comments about individuals and groups, so egregious that there have been breaches of discrimination legislation. It is problematical to construe criticism by Jones as legitimate merely because he has ready access to a microphone and regard criticism of his comments as censorship. Action by people to express their distaste for Jones by calling on advertisers to disaffiliate from his program is a legitimate response in relation to commercial broadcasting.

Tate more troublingly stated that
What we are seeing here is 21st Century censorship, via cyber-bullying.
As a talk-station we openly advocate debate. Talk radio is arguably the original form of social media. The difference between 2GB and some catchy URL is that MRN operates in a regulated media environment.
We hold ourselves, and are held, to account on many levels. We operate within a long established regulatory guidelines and rules. We’re accountable to the regulatory authorities for our license to operate; to our listeners who have the freedom to leave us any time they want; to our advertisers who will leave us if our listeners do; to our shareholders who will show staff and management the door when the advertisers disappear.
That comment offers a new perspective on cyberbullying. It is unpersuasive given the history of ineffectual self-regulation (notably the 'cash for comments' affair involving Jones) and the weakness of ACMA in addressing concerns voiced by the community and by courts or tribunals.

Continuing with the hyperbole Tate indicated that
We are happy to listen to any constructive criticism of what we are doing. We do it every day, often live on-air. But strangely we have heard very little on this issue from the same social media groups which are attempting to destroy the companies who have the hide to advertise with the highest rating radio station in Sydney. All of their focus is destructive. They are simply making life as difficult as possible for the staff of companies whose crime apparently is advertising on Sydney’s highest rating breakfast radio show. ...
There is no substantive evidence that the critics want to "destroy" the advertisers. Tate's statement, although presumably sincere, lacks credibility. The critics wish to send a message to the broadcaster that Jones' statements are repugnant and that advertisers should accordingly not him endorse him.

Tate concludes -
We have taken this unprecedented decision to suspend advertising in the Alan Jones Breakfast Show until further notice so that all of our advertisers are on an equal footing, can regroup and discuss with us the way forward and how we together deal with these attempts to damage great Australian businesses. We’ll be doing that over the next week or so and I would personally also welcome discussion with representatives of the organisations behind the totally unwarranted pressure being put on our advertisers.  .... The decision obviously comes at a very significant short term cost to MRN. It is an insignificant price to pay for our audience to be able to listen to what they choose to listen to, and for Australian companies to advertise where they choose to advertise.
Again, there's no indication that there is an intention to "destroy" or "damage" the "great Australian businesses" (including Mercedes Benz) that advertise on Jones' program.

Those advertisers remain free "to advertise where they choose to advertise". They should however have some sense of community concerns and exercise some corporate social responsibility. What is truly sad about the recent incident is that an exponent of unpleasant speech - including a deep misogyny - has not been disendorsed prior to his speech to the Sydney University students and that the polticians and staff at the event were not quick to signal their contempt for his expression.