When the artist by the name of Banksy had his own artwork shredded, it was his right. It was (and is) his own artwork and he wanted to make a statement about his work being sold at an auction. But when NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian instructed Opera House CEO Louise Herron to allow Jørn Utzon’s iconic sails to be defaced by advertising for a horse race, she is in the wrong in more ways than one.
Caving in to Alan Jones’ disgraceful bullying on behalf of Racing NSW, the Premier used her executive powers (via Arts Minister Don Harwin) to override Herron. It isn’t what those powers were designed for, and judging by the overwhelmingly negative reaction it won’t do her any favours at next year’s poll.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who seems to think it is his role to comment on everything – voiced his support, too. One wonders if he would be as forthcoming with it if the NSW Premier was of the Labor kind. That said, both NSW Labor leader Luke Foley and federal Labor MP Anthony Albanese thought it a great idea to promote the races in this way. Are they all in the pocket of Racing NSW and too afraid to stand up to Alan Jones?
Alan Jones is an angry man – one can only guess at where that anger comes from (for more on that, read Chris Master’s book “Jonestown”.) One can also only wonder how he is able to wield such influence. Business leaders, Opera House CEO’s, politicians, bishops, sports stars and Prime Ministers all take his calls; Scott Morrison didn’t even wait for the call after his ascension, apparently his office contacted 2GB to organise an interview. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull famously told Alan Jones that he wouldn’t take orders from him. Alan Jones later called for his head, and got it.
Alan Jones has influence and he knows how to use it. For better and for worse.
When Jones is found to be so unequivocally in the wrong as in the Wagner case, where he was adjudged to have wilfully and repeatedly lied – against the very public evidence of the Grantham Flood Inquiry – there are no consequences. His employer stands by him, and no doubt they will foot the defamation bill. Jones has been found guilty of defamation many times before, and he will again. It’s all part of the product. And it is a product that sells. His anger sells, bullying sells, the loudest voice sells. His breakfast radio show attracts one in five Sydney listeners, helping to make his station – 2GB – the highest ranking in the Sydney market by a considerable margin. Alan Jones sells and politicians sell out to him. It’s the way it’s been for decades.
One of the few that have dared to write about Alan Jones was then Fairfax Good Weekend journalist David Leser 20 years ago, and it appears not much has changed. At the time, Jones was furious at how Leser outed his many failed attempts at winning political office and even more so at the many disgruntled ex employees who had been belittled, demeaned and bullied by the angry man in pink. (Jones sued Leser and Fairfax unsuccessfully.) Leser described Jones as exceptionally intelligent, well read, hugely entertaining, hyper-active, fiercely loyal to his friends, unforgiving to his enemies and utterly devoid of self reflection. In Jones’ own words: “I know what I’m about. I haven’t got time to be saying, ‘Who am I'”. And what he is about is to wield his influence wherever and whenever he can.
But it is influence made possible by those who take his calls, by those who let themselves be bullied, by those too afraid to stand up to him. By those afraid that the next day Jones’ ire will fill the airwaves, ruining careers or diminishing re-election chances. One can only assume that Berejiklian thought that was a lesser risk than the voter backlash she is now facing.
If we value free speech, we must accept that Alan Jones has the right to be a bully. But the success of his bullying is only made possible by the cowardice of those that allow it, and in particular our elected leaders. Stop taking his calls, stop appearing on his program, call him out for what he is, a loudmouth with an audience. Or to quote Chris Masters: “(there is) little that is honourable in the way that Alan Jones … exercises influence. What I came to see was politicians and corporations courting Jones because of his lack of scruples, and his audience for its vulnerability to propaganda.”
Kim Wingerei is a former businessman, turned writer, blogger and commentator; passionate about free speech, democracy and the politics of change. Author of “Why Democracy is Broken – A Blueprint for Change”. Follow @ kimwingerei.com