Monday, October 8, 2012

Talking Back to the Wireless

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, people would sit in their lounge-rooms listening to the news on the wireless. The rounded and reassuring tones of a voice-of-god announcer would interpret for eager audiences the messy events of the world in neat packages.

The yearning for that distant-yet-familiar authority figure/'expert' lives on today in the aging audience for shockjocks like Alan Jones. This is a market that appears to want strong opinions - preferably ones that reinforce their own fears and prejudices.

The problem for the radio demagogues is the audience can now talk among themselves. Save for the aged, infirm and non-wired, people are not content to passively stand by while shockjocks use the publicly owned airwaves to broadcast lies, incitement and hysteria dressed up as news or entertainment. The mediators have become disintermediated.

Regulators, working in a legal rather than a moral framework, have clearly decided that 2GB does not breach the licensing regime.  But that doesn't stop the public from expressing its views about the station's standards by pressuring advertisers. And that is what we have seen in recent days.

The station's owners Macquarie Radio Network have responded to the social media campaign by suspending advertising from Jones' breakfast program, though this looks to be more a strategy of containment of the damage in the hope that normal transmission returns.
Is this censorship as critics have claimed? Clearly not. Jones is still on the air. 2GB maintains its licence. All that has happened is that advertisers, previously seeing a commercial advantage in their association with Jones, have now decided there is more downside than up in sponsoring his show. That is their right and they have exercised it. Neither governments nor regulators have sought to silence him.

As to Jones' characteristically hysterical claims of 'cyber-bullying', this is yet another example of his messianic complex.His whole schtick is casting himself as the brave and selfless defender of the voiceless residents of the mythical "Struggle Street". Now he must die on the cross at the hands of the social media pharisees to defend his disciples. Rest assured, 2GB will roll away the stone in a few months and he will be born again.

Boycotts of advertisers over lousy media standards is new to Australia, but it is relatively common overseas, particularly in the US.  Earlier this year, a major radio network there claimed it had suffered millions of dollars in lost revenue from a boycott of advertising of shows hosted by shockjock Rush Limbaugh - a man who makes Alan Jones sound like Caroline Jones. Limbaugh had vilified a young female university student as a "slut" and a "prostitute" after she appealed to Congress for contraception costs to be included in uni health insurance plans.  Less than a year later, he's still on air and as toxic as ever.

Indeed, most of the ugly phenomenon we now see in Australian commercial radio since deregulation has been evident in the US. Reading the book 'Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio' by journalist Rory O'Connor, it is striking how similar the pathology of US radio is to our own.
"Many talkshow hosts...regularly employ and promote hate speech aimed against women, minorities, homosexuals and foreigners over public airwaves, while simultaneously blurring the lines between entertainment, opinion and journalism," O'Connor writes.  "Proclaiming that their anti-gay, anti-woman, and racially or ethnically charged remarks are merely meant as good humoured, inoffensive and 'politically incorrect' fun, these highly paid, hugely powerful, mostly male and  all white shockjocks deliver one-sided, highly politicised versions of the news, influence our national conversation and affect legislation on important social issues."
 The conventional response from defenders of the shockjocks is to argue that if you are upset by their commentary you only have to change the station. Of course, this ignores the fact that there are wider public consequences from dressing up opinion as news, from distorting or manufacturing facts and from creating a public climate in which it is seen as acceptable to ritually use the most hateful speech without sanction.

So the social media backlash against Jones represents real talkback, without the 'dump' button. The wider public has had enough. And the response from advertisers shows market forces at work. That it has come to this also provides further evidence of the ineffectual nature of media regulation, which allows broadcasters to vilify, incite and deliberately mislead in order to build audiences to sell to advertisers.

If regulators won't impose media standards, the audience will do it for them.

See also: Ben Eltham: 'What Alan Jones Doesn't Know About the Media' - New Matilda


  1. Censorship is a government process. If Mr Jones were being censored, it would be through the media regulators.

    What's happening instead is that his advertisers are being provided with marketing data by consumers. Said data is basically that having their products and/or services associated with his program makes certain groups of consumers less likely to consider purchasing them. The advertisers aren't being coerced. They're simply being presented with this data, and they can make up their own minds.

    It's part of the whole "free market" thing - and I would have thought this to be something Mr Jones would be wholly in favour of, given his expressed right-wing sympathies.

    (I haven't been participating in any boycotts, since I don't listen to his show in the first place; I don't live in the greater Sydney area in the second; and I don't have that much disposable income in the third. But I wholly agree with them as an exercise in consumer power within the bounds of the market capitalism economic structure we're living with).

    1. Actually the only censor like behaviour ha been from 2GB, who by banning all ads on Jones' show have used their power to deny access to potential advertisers who saw marketing advantage from associating with Jones in the current environment.

      The public has no such direct power to prevent advertisers from buying spots on his program and media regulators have taken no steps with the limited powers they have in this situation.

  2. I like your final sentence: never mind all the hoo-ha over Finkelstein, Convergence and whatever else, I give it 18 months before the MSM start screaming for regulation to protect them from "cyberbullying"

    1. Isn't that what they're hoping to achieve with the Stop The Trolls campaign?

  3. Great post. Amid all the madness of this saga it is great to read a decent post.

    1. The majority of people are like sheep, listening to the shockjocks and believing what is being said. They don't realise that shocksjocks need to fill ther time on radio with talk, which is mostly sensationalism. Now the public is beginning to realise what these shockjocks are saying...absolute claptrap!

    2. 150,000 people in Sydney is not "most of the people"

    3. except some "shock jocks" like alex jones informs far better than lamestream media

    4. reality analysis

      reverse engineering reality

  4. "If regulators won't impose media standards, the audience will do it for them."

    The irony is that the 'regulators', in a democratic society, are the appointees, the chosen representatives of the people.
    Or at least that is the theory.


  5. While it is good to see that pig of a man lose advertisers, it won't last long. They will be back as soon as the fuss dies down. His show is too popular, and the morons that tune in are too well off, to be ignored. Someone with a strong stomach should monitor Jones to note when the advertisers return. Perhaps a website could run a contest taking predictions as to when Mercedes or Woolworths come back to the Parrot. All is forgiven, Al, (not that you did anything wrong,) and Juliar is a real bitch for not taking your calls.

    1. Jones has been in decline for years. This is not a blip, it's the crumbling of the citadel.

  6. have you ask sen conroy where the regulation are at
    its gone very quite,

  7. who said the 150th people where all from sydney
    i read lots that where from people who dont even listen
    reading a sample of the petition was very interesting

  8. Perhaps what we are seeing is an outcome of fast broadband. Corporations don't have to commission a private poll every 2 weeks. They can get instant (public) feedback from a wider selection of citizens. Features of the web-enabled campaign against Jones include a profusion of unflattering still images and some very good comic parodies at Youtube or similar. (The on-line petitions are less impressive, in my view, and will be until there's some means of verifying "signatures".)
    It's almost certain the next phase will be high-quality video, often recorded surreptiously, that leaves no doubt as to authenticity, provenance and the purpose of speakers. Here comes the promise of 4G, that (apparently) allows much higher upload speeds. How, then, will journalists respond when they are offered such "evidence" on the grounds that publication is in the broader public interest? If I was in the trade, I would take pains to prove I would never record *anything* unless pre-approved. Mobile phones are too easy to "lose".
    The way things are going, certain factions of mainstream media will become increasingly schizoid - they'll want access to the "scoops", yet will run vicious campaigns to throttle such intrusions on the grounds of privacy. That is, the privacy of their friends and allies, whose dealings may not be all that appealing in the sunshine.

  9. Jones is being hit with social sanction, not state censorship, and it is an entirely appropriate means for the community to hold a vicious clown to account.

  10. Dear Mr Denmore

    I think you may have been plagiarised on today's The Drum! I cannot for the life of me recall who said it (G Doogue, D Marr, R Cameron?), however I definitely heard the phrase "the birth of real talkback", posed as a rhetorical question.

    It may point to exactly your theme - that the fifth estate and social media have increasing influence! Congrats :)


  11. Ironically, boycotts have been a religious right weapon of choice in the US for years.

    I remember, as a subscriber, the slow strangulation of National Lampoon magazine by targeted advertiser boycotts over several years.

    It went from a fearless, outrageous, satirical mag to a lame (hope that doesn't offend Helen R) funny paper.

  12. One journalist (George Megalogenis) has lamented the demise of 'long form' journalism. The 'social media' do seem to be a threat to classical organs, if only because readers have less time to dedicate to longer, deeper articles.
    Well, Mitt Romney's Bain Made Millions On Big Tobacco In U.S., Russia in HuffPo is long, alright. It details the role played by Romney's Bain & Co. in opening up Russia to the predations of Big Tobacco after the break-up of the USSR.
    Peel back a layer to see that Rupert Murdoch got onto the Board of Philip Morris in 1989.
    In Russia today, BAT sells cigarette packs accompanied with free costume jewelry. They’re called Vogue. They can’t churn them out fast enough.
    Good luck to the youth of Russia.

  13. forget alan jones try alex jones !