The advertisers may have returned to Alan Jones’ program, but Labor MPs have not. The veteran broadcaster tells Crikey why he couldn’t care less.
Alan Jones isn’t perturbed that Labor politicians appear to be boycotting his top-rating talkback program, the controversial shock jock insists to Crikey. They’re doing his listeners — and his ratings — a favour.
But, in a rare interview, Jones says members of the Gillard government would be “fools” not to talk to him if they want to avoid a drubbing at the polls.
The Alan Jones Breakfast Show on 2GB — once considered the most influential radio show in Australia — has been a Labor-free zone since last September, when news broke Jones had said Julia Gillard’s father “died of shame”. Jones is unable to recall a federal Labor MP accepting an interview request in recent months and there is no record on 2GB’s website of any Labor appearances since October.
“We do put in regular requests [to speak to Labor MPs] but you can appreciate you reach the point where you give up bothering,” Jones told Crikey via email.
By contrast, Labor MPs such as Stephen Conroy, Nicola Roxon and New South Wales Opposition Leader John Robertson have recently appeared on Ray Hadley’s 9am 2GB shift. On Thursday, Gillard appeared on Ben Fordham’s drive-time program.
Jones says he isn’t bothered by the regular Labor rebuffs for three reasons:
“One, these people never, ever answer questions. Two, they are very economical with the truth. And three, no one is listening. So I can do without having my audience switch off because they’re on. So they’re most probably doing me a favour,” he said.
According to Jones, Mark Butler, the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, agreed to an interview last week only to pull out at the last minute.
“[I]t’s quite clear that someone is telling these people that they’re not allowed to appear. I have simply represented that as their right to say no, but it has been universal,” he said.
A 2GB source said: “I’m sure the word has gone out — either from Gillard or McTernan — that no one from the ministry is to have anything to do with us.”
Butler’s office told Crikey last week’s interview was cancelled because of “scheduling problems”; a spokesperson says they’re not aware of any official edict not to appear on the program. The Prime Minister’s communications chief John McTernan did not respond to Crikey’s requests for comment.
Jones said he’d be surprised, with the polls pointing to electoral defeat, if Labor MPs don’t soften their stance ahead of September 14: “I would have thought they’d be fools if they don’t. I do have the largest radio audience in the country. But it’s up to them.”
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese announced he was boycotting the program in October over the “died of shame” comments, saying the broadcaster had overstepped the bounds of reasonableness. Then attorney-general Nicola Roxon, however, refused to rule out appearing again because Jones’ listeners deserve to hear a range of views.
According to a former senior staffer in Gillard’s communications department, the decision to avoid Jones’ program is likely to be driven by tactical considerations as well as outrage over his insensitive remarks. In Canberra, Jones’ audience is perceived to be old, conservative and set in its ways while Hadley is seen as having greater influence with “aspirational” swinging voters in the marginal seats of western Sydney.
McTernan recently approached Hadley to have a beer — an offer the combative presenter publicly shot down. Meanwhile, FM hosts such as Kyle and Jackie O appeal to younger first-time voters and have a softer interview style than Jones, who regularly shouts over guests he disagrees with.
Jones remains the highest-rating Sydney radio host, but took a tumble in the most survey. His average audience fell from 172,000 to 145,000; audience share dropped from 18.2% to 15.4%.
The Prime Minister last appeared on Jones’ program in February 2011, when he scolded her for being 10 minutes late for the interview and then went on to call her “Ju-liar”. He later called for her, and Greens leader Bob Brown, to be thrown out to sea in a chaff bag. Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Barry O’Farrell and other senior Coalition members have all appeared on Jones’ show in recent months.