Can Alan Jones Really Bring Down a Government? | radioinfo

Can Alan Jones Really Bring Down a Government?

Sunday 08 February, 2015

And is the Mic Mightier than the Pen? Opinion from Peter Saxon

Even without a GfK survey, there’s little doubt that Alan Jones has brought swarms of fresh listeners to the low rating 4BC in Brisbane. As John Singleton told The Australian, “Everyone knows their 4BC now. It’s a very cheap way to launch 4BC and Alan Jones in Queensland. Very cheap’’  Perhaps Fairfax Radio’s defamation underwriters will come to see it differently.

On Monday, just three weeks ago, on the first of his 10, one-hour shows covering the Queensland state elections, Jones surprised everyone, chief among them, Campbell Newman, by dumping on the LNP Premier. Before even the first commercial break, Jones firmly declared that he could not support Newman. “I’m afraid I couldn’t back Campbell Newman to run a chook raffle,” he said. From there on, it got worse. Much worse, for Newman.

Jones continued his blistering attacks on the Premier all that week and by Friday, a defamation action had been brought against him by Newman joined by a list of others including Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, state Treasurer Tim Nicholls, and bureaucrat Jon Grayson.

“It appears as though every minister in the Newman government who has the number of a lawyer is suing me for something,” Jones told listeners in a 'bring it on' tone.

In the lawsuit, citing Jones and 4BC, Mr Newman alleges that over three days the broadcaster said things which he knew were false, making statements such as he “prostituted himself” and “dishonestly approved” the mine expansion as a result of large sums of money donated to the LNP by mining giant, New Hope.

I can’t speak to the rights and wrongs or what’s true or false about the specific allegations, but if it goes to court, it will be a fascinating test as to just how much influence Alan Jones has. Does he, through his microphone, on a relatively low rating station, really have the power to bring down a government?

An expert panel on Sky News on election night certainly thought so.

“I think Alan Jones has had a very big influence on this outcome,” said Graham Richardson.

“I’ll go further than that, if Labor wins, they won because of Alan Jones,” said Peter Van Onselen.

“I have to say I agree with that completely, with what Graham has said ...

“So, here he is the most successful broadcaster in Australia, the most listened to, attacking viciously every day the Newman Government. This caused them immense damage, he’s played a very major role in this ... ” said Michael Kroger.

But Paul Barry on Media Watch wasn’t totally convinced, pointing out, “IF the media IS so powerful why did the Courier Mail’s attacks on Labor not have more effect?”

Could it simply be that Alan Jones’ microphone is more powerful than the local paper’s presses?

Barry continued, “And why is Mr Abbott and his government on the nose with voters despite News Corp’s—and Alan Jones’s—steadfast support? 

Clearly there are limits to how much the media can influence the democratic process,” said Paul Barry on last week’s Media Watch.

Those limits will be put on trial if the defamation action brought by Newman and his cohorts goes ahead.

In 2006 Merrick and Rosso on Nova 969 put a woman to air who claimed to be a prostitute and named one of her clients as then NSW Treasurer Michael Costa (left) before they could cut her off. Mr Costa sued for defamation. The matter was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

According to a prominent lawyer, defamation suits tend to be difficult to win. Not necessarily difficult to prove, but difficult to win in as much as: come out ahead financially. That’s because it is usually not enough to show that your feelings have been hurt, or even that some people think less of you. To get a substantial payout that covers costs you need to prove that your loss of reputation has led to a quantifiable financial loss.

In this particular case, Mr Costa could have shown that his re-election chances had been harmed by producing half a dozen affidavits from voters swearing that they would change their vote away from him because they had heard Nova’s broadcast with the alleged prostitute.

Of course, Nova could have mounted a defence by proving the allegation was true. But, apparently, they were unable or unwilling to verify the identity of the prostitute, or whether she was really a prostitute at all, let alone whether her claim about her politician client was true. 

As a commentator, Alan Jones is entitled to express his opinion and it can be as scathing as he likes provided that any facts he uses in support of that opinion are true.

The other, broader, question is: If it were not for Alan Jones would Newman et al still be in office? Hard to tell. We’ll let the courts decide.

 

Peter Saxon
 

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1 Comments

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Eugene Delargy
30 March 2015 - 4:41pm
Now that survey 1 has been released, we can see that Alan Jones has not been warmly received in Brisbane.

4BC's share is plumbing new depths.

I have no confidence in either the Fairfax or MRN management turning that around as long as they continue the trend begun by the Lamb Family of running talkback commercial radio in Brisbane on a shoestring budget for the last 20+ years.
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