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TV & Radio

Oct 1, 2012

Unsackable: why Alan Jones can say what he likes

The public might wonder why Alan Jones can get away with increasingly outrageous comments -- but with this many share options, and that many listeners, it's hard to get the Parrot to stop screeching.

Politicians are railing against him, social media is in meltdown and advertisers are pulling their spending. Yet, despite his insensitive comments about Julia Gillard’s father to the Sydney University Liberal Club, Alan Jones’ status as the king of talkback seems as assured as ever.

As Crikey hit deadline this morning, over 17,000 people had signed a petition calling for 2GB to terminate Jones’ contract immediately.

Yet that’s an unlikely — almost impossible — proposition for several reasons. If any Australian media personality is unsackable, it’s Alan Jones.

Firstly, Jones is more than just an employee of the Macquarie Radio Network, which owns 2GB. Although the popular belief that he owns 20% of the company isn’t true, he is its fourth largest shareholder. When Jones re-signed with 2GB in 2008, he received 4,000,000 MRN share options as part of the deal. In August he exercised his option for a first tranche of 1,333, 334 shares, putting him behind only John Singleton, Mark Carnegie and Russell Tate in the ownership stakes.

Then there’s the Parrot’s contribution to the station’s profits. Macquarie Radio Network has only two assets: 2GB and golden oldies music station 2CH. And on 2GB, only two shows command an average audience over 80,000.

“There are two people who make the station work: Alan Jones first and Ray Hadley second,” says stockbroker Roger Colman.

Although Hadley has a bigger audience share, it was Jones who transformed 2GB from a ratings joke into a juggernaut, and it’s Jones who has the most listeners. According to the latest ratings results, 151,000 Sydneysiders are tuned in to his show at any one time. A total of 442,000 listen over a week.

It’s important to remember exactly who those listeners are when assessing the likely impact of Jones’ latest gaffe. They’re not likley to be venting their spleen on Twitter or signing online petitions.

Colman describes the relationship between Jones and his audience as a “closed and unbreakable circle”. “His key listeners are over 55, they are right wing. They agree with him that Julia Gillard is a bitch and witch. There is no mismatch between him and his listeners.”

That’s why Colman says Jones’ latest comments are a “non issue” when it comes to the long-term profitability of his show.

Jones’ biographer, Chris Masters, agrees: “His evangelical following is small but big in radio terms. They won’t be upset by what he has to say. They are true believers. I don’t think they’d be too bothered at 2GB. The fact this man has been lead news across the nation would delight them.”

Indeed, there’s no sign that being outrageous counts against radio hosts in the long term. Mazda, Telstra, Harvey Norman, Fantastic Furniture, Blackmores, Crazy John’s, Holden, Vodafone and the Good Guys pulled their sponsorship from Kyle Sandilands’ TV and radio shows last year after he vilified a female journalist. Yet despite the outrage, the Kyle and Jackie O show is back on top of the ratings with 584,000 Sydney residents tuning in every week (more than listen to Jones). And there’s no shortage of sponsors filling the ad breaks.

Cynics note that canny advertisers can get plaudits for pulling their ads when the controversy is raging, then quietly buy ad space again when the heat dies down.

Then there is Jones’ track record: he’s survived plenty of storms as turbulent than this. Remember the London loo incident? The cash for comment scandal? His role in the Cronulla riots? Calling for Gillard to be thrown out to sea in a chaff bag?

“The nation is shocked by this but I’m not a bit surprised,” Masters said. “If Jones is exposed to a broader audience, he will get a reaction like this. If the broad public see and hear what he gets up to they are appalled.” Yet after each outrage Jones bounces back more popular than before.

ABC Radio National’s Phillip Adams put it best when he told Crikey’s sister site The Power Index last year: “He is like Godzilla roaming around eating power lines. Rather than getting electrocuted, he grows stronger.”

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107 thoughts on “Unsackable: why Alan Jones can say what he likes

  1. paddy

    While Jones has survived plenty of storms before, it’s hard to know just how badly this one might damage his brand. As you say, sponsors are justly notorious for grabbing the kudos of “ditching” a problematic host, and then quietly slipping back when the fuss dies down.
    But the intensity of the latest outrage seems much greater than the previous episodes. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming weeks.
    Who knows, maybe social media is actually growing more powerful?
    Interesting times.

  2. michael r james

    This is why the campaign against the 2GB advertisers needs to get serious and be persistent, especially Woolworths who have carefully parsed their withdrawal of advertising to encompass only Jones not 2GB, and have a particularly disreputable role in the insults:

    [Peter Coorey, today’s SMH:
    “The jacket (made from chaf bags) was donated by Woolworths community relations manager Simon Berger, who was a preselection candidate for the federal seat of Bradfield after Brendan Nelson resigned. … A Woolworths spokeswoman told the National Times Mr Berger was at the function as a private citizen, not a company representative.”]

    Other advertisers:

    Harvey Norman
    Freedom Furniture
    Virgin Australia

  3. Venise Alstergren

    MATTHEW KNOTT: How does “”Hadley having a bigger audience share”” equal “”Jones has the most listeners?”” I’m confused.

  4. Draco Houston

    In today’s society Alan Jones can broadcast whatever he wants and get away with it. If he gets in trouble he makes a public apology, says that it was taken out of context and so on.

    It is fine that he has the opinions he holds, but to express some of them in such a crass way is very unprofessional. He can hate Julia Gillard all he wants, but saying that her father died of shame shows a complete lack of tact. He SHOULD be more clever about it.

    He can say what he wants but ‘freedom of speech’ does not shield anyone from the social consequences. People will be offended and no legal protections will soften that. While it does not always directly affect Mr Jones, a decent man would take it into consideration and not say the offensive thing at all. There are other ways to get your point across. He could have easily called Gillard a liar without involving her recently deceased father.

    In a decent society he’d be tapped on the shoulder and told to keep it civil or step away from the mic and take that crap to a blog or youtube channel where it belongs. However, the market decides that he stays and continues doing what he does and any consideration of the feelings of others are set aside.

    A shame we do not live in a world where the people who can sack Jones don’t see any reason to go beyond their legal responsibilities (retraction/apology), because today there simply isn’t one.

  5. David Allen

    “That’s why Colman says Jones’ latest comments are a “non issue” when it comes to the long-term profitability of his show”

    But, when his activities encroach on a wider audience, as in this case, and we take action against his and 2GB national sponsors, it affects the sponsors business.

    From the sponsor’s point of view, why risk alienating millions to appeal to about 150,000 low income, low intelligence Jones’ listeners?

  6. Venise Alstergren

    Alan Jones is scum, and the people who listen to him more so. If people weren’t listening to him the advertising industry wouldn’t be interested in his program.

    All the apparent outrage would be much better addressed if the old people of Sydney reined in their prurience and love of rudeness and simply switched him off.

    There appears to be a common belief among the recently wealthy that the more you bollock your beginnings, the greater become one’s achievements.

  7. matthews chris

    Rather than provide disheartening and self defeating analysis it would be better for Gideon to add his considerable brain power to working out how to deal with this grub (to use a Roy and HG term). All we have to do is find the correct frequency and the economic and demographic walls of 2GB’s Jericho will come tumbling down.

    One suggestion already made by Sarah Hanson Young (who does occasionally have good ideas) is that politicians undertake not to appear on his show- we need to capitalise on this with letters to our local members of parliament seeking their promise not to do so- and we need to publicise a list of shame of those that do appear.

    We also need to take the rage from twitter and turn it into word of mouth. The Jones demographic have relatives, friends and work mates who can speak up and start to turn around the level of public political debate in Australia.

    We should lobby our super funds to ensure they do not invest in 2GB.

    We should, if we haven’t already, sign petitions and write to adverstisers, adding that we will be watching them even when the furore is over.

    We should not give in.

  8. zut alors

    Michael RJ, thanks for the list.

    While petitions seem a fine idea and require minimal effort to join online, a far more effective protest is to telephone the sponsor directly and ask for their PR section. Sponsors will be impacted more when their telephone lines are clogged and their staff’s time is wasted in damage control. Also, the caller enjoys the satisfaction of an anti-2GB/Jones vent.

    Management will never sack him, the petition is a dud exercise. Follow the money – make a couple sponsor calls instead.

  9. Mark from Melbourne

    A low rent toe rag but unfortunately there are plenty who are like minded including John and Jeanette Howard who seem particularly taken with him. These people are genuinely amazed when you suggest he is a hate mongerer and nasty piece of work.

    So as much as I think he should be deprived of oxygen that doesn’t necessarily fix the problem.

    And good on Gillard for ignoring him. Not only does he think he can say these things but he also assumes that the PM of the day will take his calls. You cant criticise him for sheer brass.

  10. Salamander

    Well it’s not good enough. Jones is a blight on civil society. Simply boycott the advertisers if that’s the only way to get him off air.

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