Four days on and it’s still hard to work out why The Sydney Morning Herald’s Friday edition had a two-page in-house “exclusive” interview/feature with 2GB breakfast host Alan Jones.
There was nothing new to be gleaned from the article excerpt for the fact that Jones is still very angry and upset at the reaction to his ill-tempered comments about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The broadcaster’s suggestion that Scott Morrison should shove a sock down Ardern’s throat has seen dozens of advertisers flee his program and 2GB, with major cashed-up corporates like the Commonwealth Bank leading the way.
Jones was warned by Macquarie Media chair Russell Tate over the comments (2GB is one of the key AM talk stations owned by Macquarie) and a subsequent announcement has revealed that management are investigating Jones and other programs on the station.
In fact the SMH article had all the hallmarks of a ”kiss and make up” between Jones and the old Fairfax Media (now Nine Entertainment) masthead. It is instructive that media and communications writer Jennifer Duke was invited to talk to Jones and spend an early morning hour with him in his Sydney studio. Other journalists on the SMH, such as Sydney gossip writer Andrew Hornery, have written at length about Jones’ problems at 2GB in the past couple of years. Hornery this year has reported on the twisted contract negotiations between Jones and 2GB, while the paper has also reported on bullying allegations made against broadcaster Ray Hadley by several long-time staffers at Macquarie.
The SMH article last Friday played down an Australian Financial Review story on September 16 alleging that Nine chair Peter Costello and/or the Nine board intervened twice to stop 2GB and Macquarie (and Nine) from sacking Jones, once in May and once in August. Talks to re-sign Jones to a new contract at 2GB had been delayed by Nine’s move to mop up the minority 45% or so of Macquarie that it didn’t get control of when it took over Fairfax last year. Jones owned just over 1% of Macquarie and was close to John Singleton who controlled just over 32%. Together they could have blocked the mop-up bid, hence the Nine board’s sensitivity.
But the SMH article avoided the big financial issue with Jones: the continuing legal costs associated with Jones’ blatherings on 2GB and 4BC in Brisbane. Macquarie revealed a $3 million provision in its 2017-18 accounts to cover defamation costs. It proved inadequate. The eventual cost was $4.86 million, including the $3.75 million judgement against Jones and Macquarie over remarks that were found to have defamed the Wagner brothers of Toowoomba regarding the 2011 Grantham floods. In the 2018-19 accounts, the provision has been raised to $3.2 million.
Last Wednesday, two days before the Jones article appeared in the SMH, there was a clue as to why it may have been commissioned and the timing of its publication. Nine told the Australian Securities Exchange that Singleton had accepted the Nine offer and signed a deed of restraint with Nine that he would not compete with the network. As a result, Singleton had accepted Nine’s $1.46 a share offer, thereby boosting Nine’s stake in Macquarie to 87.05% and within sight of the 90% level where compulsory acquisition can happen.