“Is that a dead parrot?” asked Crikey in the subject line of yesterday’s edition, bringing back a flood of memories about the important contribution Alan Jones has made to our little e-zine over the past 20 years.
Long time media watchers still fondly talk about the regular Parrot Droppings columns which ran from 2002 until 2004 in Crikey and chronicled the shock jock’s performances in the period after he’d survived the cash for comment scandals, saw his beloved 2UE radio station bought by the southerners who owned 3AW for $90 million, and then famously defected to Singo and 2GB in March 2002.
I’ve never met or had any direct engagement with Jones, but for some reason he told Channel Nine reporter Adam Shand in 2004: “People like Stephen Mayne don’t deserve a place in society.”
What was the crime? Well he was probably upset about almost 50 Parrot Droppings columns put together by a team of Sydney media watchers spanning the likes of gossip columnists, former political staffers, ABC employees and cartoonists.
Here are links to some of the bird watching team’s more noteworthy efforts:
Jones was probably also annoyed about a few of the early board tilts I did in 2000 and 2001 because a number of them targeted his cash for comment sponsors.
Here was a systemic accountability failure if ever you’d seen one.
ABC TV’s Media Watch scored the Gold Walkley in 1999 for its exposé on John Laws and his tawdry cash for comment deals with the Australian Bankers’ Association.
A flurry of media ensued and even Jones supporter John Howard felt the need to commission an Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) inquiry into cash for comment in late 1999.
Julian Burnside QC, a Melbourne silk independent of the Sydney power set, was retained as counsel assisting the inquiry and duly carved up Jones and Laws, leading to several adverse findings against them.
But the accountability system failed because Howard appeared on Jones’ program the day after the adverse findings were released, and 2UE’s management did nothing to punish him other than requiring a register of sponsors to be published on the station’s website.
Key Jones sponsors included Qantas, Optus, Commonwealth Bank, NRMA and the Sydney billionaire developer Lang Walker, and some were still paying him even after the ABA inquiry. So the decision was taken to target as many of these companies with board tilts opposing the cash for comment deals and promising to run for their board every year until they stopped.
It didn’t take long for most of the sponsors to walk away, although some were probably intending not to renew their arrangements at the end of the contract anyway.
But costing Jones hundreds of thousands of dollars and then publishing regular columns taking the mickey out of him probably explains the undeserving position in society line.
The other important Jones role in the history of Crikey was that his defection to 2GB created a vacancy on the 2UE breakfast show. Its new owner, Southern Cross Broadcasting, parachuted in 3AW shock jock Steve Price from Melbourne to fill the void.
The timing was perfect for us because a multi-day defamation battle with Price was all set to start in the Victorian Supreme Court just as he was meant to be in Sydney filling the biggest shoes in Australian radio. He couldn’t be in two places at once.
So when our pro bono lawyer Burnside (who else?) offered Price’s bosses $50,000 to settle the case, it was quickly agreed and Crikey never looked back.
Fast forward 17 years and there was Steve Price on Andrew Bolt’s Sky show last night singing the Parrot’s praise, in stark contrast to what he was saying shortly before he headed to Sydney only to be humiliated when a clear majority of the Parrot’s audience followed him across to 2GB and ratings on the 2UE breakfast show crashed from as high 20 down to single digits.
The other amusing connection with all this was that the Price defamation case against Crikey happened only because I republished a press release put out by a failed political candidate called Raymond Hoser which, at the very bottom, falsely claimed that Price had been found guilty before the cash for comment inquiry after a complaint by Hoser.
Shortly before the key mediation session with Price and his lawyers, Crikey had published a foul-mouthed blooper tape of Alan Jones sounding off. The same legal team acting for Price had fired off a letter demanding that we take it down for breaching 2UE’s copyright.
So we took it down, but when the mediation failed and Price’s lawyers made it very clear they were intending to bankrupt me and seize our home, I walked straight back to said home and republished the Jones blooper tape as leverage in the ongoing legal war.
This was quickly republished by then Triple J Mornings presenter Francis Leach. I can’t find the original but it included some of the content which was subsequently packaged up by Triple J’s Hack program in 2012.
Have a listen. It will remind you why it is a very good thing that the nasty Parrot’s radio career will be over by the end of this month.