If last week’s nauseating spectacle of John Howard and Kevin Rudd falling over themselves to support broadcaster Alan Jones after he was severely censured by the broadcasting tribunal – ACMA – wasn’t enough, can you imagine how the Prime Minister and his ‘Sir Echo’, Mr Rudd will react if Mr Jones is jailed later this week for committing serious contempt of court in July 2005?

Tomorrow, Magistrate Helen Syme will hear submissions, on what penalty she should hand down to Mr Jones and the Daily Telegraph, which was also found guilty of contempt, over the naming by Jones and the Daily Telegraph of a child witness in a murder trial.

While the Daily Telegraph faces a maximum penalty of $50,000 for breaching the law, Jones could find himself paying a fine of up to $5000 or facing a jail term of up to 12 months, or both.

One could not rule out the possibility of Jones receiving a jail term, or at least a suspended sentence, because the broadcaster has prior convictions for similar types of offences.

The ABC’s Four Corners website chronology of Alan Jones shows that:

In 1992, Jones and the station that carried his show in those days, 2UE, were found guilty of contempt of court after the criminal trial of ex-policeman John Killen was aborted following an interview Jones did with Paul Kenny, a former Drug Enforcement Squad officer.

Only 12 months later, Jones and 2UE were fined $77,000 (Jones’ share $2,000) after Jones caused the trial of a policeman to be aborted. The policeman faced a charge of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on the same day as Jones, in an interview with the Police Association, dealt with allegations that police had suffered at the hands of false accusations.

Then there are the comments of Jones last week in reaction to the findings by ACMA that 2GB and Jones had broadcast material around the time of the Cronulla riots that was likely to encourage violence or brutality and to vilify people of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern backgrounds on the basis of ethnicity.

Jones was quick to pummel ACMA. He said, the body had “little radio experience or knowledge of talkback radio,” and that the inquiry into his comments was biased.

So when his lawyers trot out character witnesses and character references on Thursday in front of Ms Syme, one thing they won’t be able to argue is that Alan Jones always puts the interests of justice in front of his own interests as a broadcaster.

Of course, it is not unknown for a high profile broadcaster to go to jail for contempt of court in Australia. Remember Derryn Hinch?

In 1986, Hinch was found guilty of contempt over comments had made on his 3AW radio program regarding a disgraced priest Michael Glennon, who was before the Victorian courts facing serious sex offences.

Hinch faced Victorian Supreme Court judge Peter Murphy with two contempt of court convictions under his belt. Murphy sent Hinch to jail for 42 days because, as one of the judges who heard Hinch’s appeal( in which his jail term was reduced to 4 weeks) observed, “his previous convictions for contempt of court evince that he has a disposition to place himself above the law when he considers his interests as a broadcaster might conflict with the law.”

One wonders if Ms Syme might not have reason to view Mr Jones in a similar light tomorrow. If she does, and Alan Jones is sentenced to a term of imprisonment what will John Howard and Kevin Rudd say about their hero?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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