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Looking back on Alan Jones

  • 15 May 2020
  Alan Jones has never shied away from controversy. Relentlessly pounding various positions for decades, he has remained, till his recent announcement that he would be retiring, immoveable. He ducked accusations; he prevailed in the face of storms and juggernauts. At Sydney radio station 2GB, he maintained a degree of authority from the fear of politicians.

Current and former prime ministers on Jones’ aisle of politics were congratulatory and reflective. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on hearing the news of Jones’ impending retirement, was warm. ‘You’ve always spoken your mind to everyone, including me, and we’ve had one or two disagreements, but you’ve always done the right thing for your country.’ Tony Abbott suggested that Australia’s ‘national conversation will be different and poorer without @AlanJones on radio every morning.’

Predictably, praise was absent in other quarters. Writer John Birmingham’s response to Abbott’s meditation was simple: Australia would be able to find another bottom-barrelled racist. Such views served to highlight the point that all Jones touches, or is touched by, turns to controversy.

Finding that paragon virtue of balance seems nigh impossible. When the biography Jonestown was published, fury fumed in both Murdoch and Fairfax presses. Andrew Bolt suggested that the work by Chris Masters had served to ‘out’ Jones by focusing on his time as a teacher in charge of boys. Ditto Paul Sheehan, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald. Masters’ ‘examination of Jones’s time at the school, is, like so much of the book, suffused with sexual innuendo.’ David Marr was left with the balancing act, retorting that the biography made no allegations of sexual impropriety.

The reaction to Jonestown underlined the force Jones had, and continues to have, as the most prominent of Australian shock jocks. The shock jock is cocooned and Teflon coated, a survivor of the firestorm controversy that would sink most public figures. He survived the disclosure of that most unsavoury of speeches about Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s father having ‘died of shame’. (That venture saw a loss of $1.5 million in revenue.) He lasted the maelstrom that was cash-for-comment. As Marr has observed with some astonishment, the 1999 revelations ‘that he sold his opinions for millions should have left him scuppered, washed up, wrecked and finished, there and then.’ The backers remained; his audience forgot.

Perhaps, most remarkably, the leader of shock jocks lasted that most relentless, brutal and, for the most part, unregulated of pack animals: the social media platform.