Jenna Price claims to be just an “”ordinary”” person who is “”sick of the way that Alan Jones speaks to us and tries to whip up hate””. Or so she told ABC Radio AM yesterday. Ms Price is the founder of a Facebook page which has campaigned – so far successfully – for companies to withdraw their advertising from Alan Jones”s breakfast show on Macquarie Radio 2GB.
On her Facebook page yesterday, Ms Price was identifying with “”the small, the defenceless, the vulnerable””. Which is quite remarkable self-perception for someone who has worked as a journalist for most of her career, who has a weekly column in The Canberra Times and is an academic at the taxpayer-subsidised University of Technology, Sydney.
Ms Price”s Destroy the Joint website was set up before Jones”s distasteful and indefensible words about the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard – which were first reported in The Sunday Telegraph just over a week ago. It has achieved national prominence since then in campaigning for an advertising boycott of Jones”s program.
Yesterday, Ms Price declined to take responsibility for the fact that some supporters of her cause have intimidated small businesses which traditionally advertise on Jones”s program. She merely described such behaviour as “”horrible””. On Sky News last Sunday, Ms Price was quoted as saying: “”I”m not a person who wants to sack Alan Jones; I want to re-educate Alan Jones.””
Not content with educating media students at the UTS journalism program, Ms Price wants to re-educate Jones. According to her, people like Jones do not represent “”the Australia our community wants””. No surprise here. In fact, the UTS journalism community has as many political conservatives on staff as 2GB has leftist presenters. Namely, zip in both cases.
During John Howard”s prime ministership, it was fashionable for high-profile left-wing academics to claim they were being censored. This was the thesis of the collection Silencing Dissent, edited by Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison. The book, published in early 2007, accused the Howard government of being intolerant and authoritarian along with controlling public opinion and stifling debate.
This was a figment of left-wing academic imagination. In any event, not long after Silencing Dissent hit the bookshops, the Coalition was demolished at the polls by Kevin Rudd and Labor. Clearly, there was no silencing dissent during the Howard years. But there is a new intolerance emerging in Australia in the lead-up to the scheduled 2013 election which has been exacerbated by social media. A few examples illustrate the point:
Alan Jones insulted the Prime Minister and then apologised. The apology was not accepted by Julia Gillard, which is her prerogative. However, this incident has been used by Jones”s opponents, many of whom have wanted to drive him out of the electronic media for many years, to intimidate 2GB advertisers.
Few, if any, of the civil liberties lobby have spoken out against the recommendation made by Ray Finkelstein, QC, that a news media council be established. This body, if established, would have the power to regulate virtually all media in Australia. Moreover, its findings – concerning which there is no proposed right of appeal – would be enforced by fining and/or imprisoning editors. The government is still considering Finkelstein”s recommendations.
In the Eatock v Bolt case in 2011, Federal Court judge Mordy Bromberg not only found that the News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt had made inaccurate and offensive comments about the claimants he described as “”fair-skinned Aboriginal people””. Bromberg also railed against the “”tone”” of Bolt”s articles. The judge objected to Bolt”s sarcasm, mockery, cynicism, incivility, disrespect and irresponsibility. He said that, in assessing language, it is necessary to “”read between the lines””. Meaning that it is proper to find against columnists not only for what they write but also for what they do not write.
Then there is the matter of double standards. In 2011 the ABC paid for, and subsequently defended, the former Labor speechwriter Bob Ellis”s comments that the Liberal MP Jillian Skinner was “”like a long-detested nagging landlady with four dead husbands and hairy shoulders””. Ellis never apologised for this insult, which was published on the taxpayer-funded website The Drum. But to the likes of Ms Price, an apology by the former Liberal speechwriter Jones for offensive after-dinner comments at a university function are not acceptable.
Here”s a reality check. Jones is not as influential as his critics or supporters believe. Nor is the Destroy the Joint movement. Ms Price has written on her Facebook page: “”Macquarie Radio Network has offered to meet with us. Perhaps we should hire ANZ Stadium.”” Don”t bother. Most of Ms Price”s supporters are inner-city types who never listen to 2GB and who could not find their way to the sporting facilities at Homebush, even with the aid of a GPS.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.