The reasons for Cronulla were always obvious. For years, the locals were abandoned to the mercy of thugs by both the police and the politicians. When this culminated in the bashing of livesavers, these years of neglect led large numbers of young men, mainly by texting, to call for vigilante action. And remember this, this was at the time when it was discovered that rapist gangs were targeting girls because they were identified as Australians.
It was Alan Jones and the Daily Telegraph which informed Sydney people of what was happening. In every program that week — and I heard most of them — he called for restraint, for our youth not to take the law into their own hands. Not, of course, that many young men listen to Alan Jones. And when, on the night after Cronulla, when the revenge convoy of cars with hazard lights on sailed through red lights from the inner West to the beaches, not armed like the drunken Cronulla boys with fists, but with knives and bars, the police were told to keep away.
The ACMA judgement is a classic case of shooting the messenger. The inquisitorial process is totally flawed. A fundamental principle is that you should always be able to face your accusers. Here they were faceless. They probably never heard the original program. They trawled through the transcripts and found small extracts, mainly emails or letters read which offended them. To punish 2GB for reading these would be like making a newspaper responsible for the range of letters it publishes.
Exacerbated by the amalgamation of the ABA and ACA, none of the ACMA members seems to have any experience in commercial talkback — unlike, say, the Press Council which mixes public members with journalists and editors. In fact, the only ABA member with any commercial radio experience , a man of independent mind and means was inexplicably not reappointed to an ACMA whose powers have been increased. And it is doubtful that every member would have heard the 20 or so hours of programs.
We’re not dealing here with disgusting lyrics in broadcast music or filthy language — of which, I am told, there is too much on air — here we are dealing with not so much freedom of speech, but freedom of political speech, a freedom implied in our Constitution. This cannot be left in the hands of anyone, much less those acting with the imprimatur of the state.
This is freedom across the whole political spectrum. Those who rejoice in Alan Jones being subject to such a dictat should not be short-sighted. It can work both ways. Indeed, it can work against all segments of the political spectrum.
And this process will, sadly, always work against the public interest.