gets too active - 1st May 2004
The Sydney Morning Herald)
Not even a prime minister is safe
when the titans of talkback clash. Wendy Frew
no secret. The Prime Minister, John Howard, and
the Sydney radio king Alan Jones are great mates,
and the two share a conservative outlook. The
Prime Minister is a regular guest on Jones's 2GB
breakfast talkback program, where he usually gets
an easy run from the otherwise acerbic presenter
on sensitive issues such as the war in Iraq.
return, Jones gets to mix it with political and
business elites at functions such as the Prime
Minister's barbecue lunch for US President George
Bush last year, and a party to celebrate Howard's
25 years in federal politics. Jones has even been
master of ceremonies at some of Howard's parties.
for the Prime Minister the friendship holds an
extra and critically important attraction: for
years, Jones has held the No.1 spot in breakfast
on Sydney radio, Australia's biggest and most
lucrative commercial radio market. He also appears
regularly on Today on Kerry Packer's Nine Network.
That gives him the ear of 540,000 2GB listeners
a day, an estimated 250,000 TV viewers, and the
power to set the news agenda state-wide, and sometimes
radio has been described as a litmus test of community
feeling but it also offers politicians a chance
to avoid tough questioning while seemingly reaching
out to the masses. As Howard himself once said:
"Talkback radio has played a greater role
in shaping the outcome of an election of the last
few years than other sections of the media."
between the politician and Jones has been so regular
over the years that in 1999 Howard assigned a
senior staffer to deal with Jones's concerns and
to handle the hundreds of letters received from
the broadcaster on topics as diverse as benefits
for war veterans and bans on imported uncooked
links to Australia's sporting and business communities
make him a voice worth listening to. He's a former
coach of the Wallabies, a power broker in the
South Sydney rugby league club, and is close to
media heavyweights such as Packer, Sam Chisholm
and 2GB owner and millionaire ad man John Singleton.
Jones-Howard relationship, for the most part mutually
satisfying, has occasionally been the subject
of public speculation and scrutiny. But it now
faces its toughest test following sensational
allegations made by 2UE broadcaster John Laws
that Jones claimed to have forced Howard to re-appoint
David Flint as chairman of the media watchdog,
the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA).
told his listeners on Wednesday that Jones had
told him at a dinner party in November 2000: "I
personally went to Kirribilli House and instructed
John Howard to re-elect David Flint or he would
not have the support of Alan Jones in the forthcoming
branded Laws's claims "fanciful" while
Howard said he and Jones had never had such a
conversation. The Opposition Leader, Mark Latham,
says if the dinner party allegation is true it
"would be a serious breach of the ministerial
code". He has demanded Howard provide a more
about the Government's relationship with Jones
deepened further when it was revealed the following
day that the Veterans Affairs Minister, Danna
Vale, wrote to Jones on parliamentary letterhead
assuring him of "our warm support" and
asking him to "add our names to the long
list of all your friends". In a blunder that
will be the butt of political jokes for years
to come, she accidentally faxed the letter to
the rival radio network 2UE.
cloud also hangs over Flint's integrity and that
of the ABA following revelations that the chairman
had failed to disclose what now appears to be
a close relationship with Jones.
in October 1999, on the first day of the ABA's
so-called cash-for-comment inquiry that examined
corporate sponsorship of radio broadcasters, Flint
said he hardly knew Jones. He told the members
of the investigating panel he had once briefly
met the broadcaster at the launch of a memorial
to an athlete, and a second time at a book launch.
Flint ended up stepping down from the inquiry
after appearing on Laws's program not long before
it was due to start.
ABA eventually found that 2UE - where Jones and
Laws both then worked - had breached the Commercial
Radio Codes of Practice 95 times.
has now confessed to exchanging a "stream
of letters" with Jones in the months leading
up to the cash-for-comment inquiry.
TV's Media Watch disclosed on Monday that in one
of the letters, on ABA letterhead, Flint told
Jones "you have an extraordinary ability
of capturing and enunciating the opinions of the
majority on so many issues". According to
Laws, in another letter, from Jones to Flint,
in June 1999 - three months before Flint announced
the ABA would hold an inquiry into the cash-for-comment
scandal - Jones refers to "their allegiance".
now says his failure to disclose the letters to
the 1999 inquiry was an oversight.
warm feelings between Flint and Jones mirror those
between Jones and the Prime Minister. Flint also
has connections to Howard.
Herald has learned that in 2000 the then minister
for communications, Richard Alston, had reservations
about Flint's reappointment but was won over by
Laws has described as "a very unattractive
little troika" of Howard, Jones and Flint
raises a raft of questions about conflicts of
interest and perceived bias. Is Australia's top
political leader too close to a powerful broadcaster?
Can the ABA be considered an independent regulator
when its chairman has failed to distance himself
from a broadcaster who has been the subject of
several serious ABA investigations?
himself seems to have answered the question of
whether his public endorsement of the Howard Government's
involvement in the Iraq war should disqualify
him from overseeing Alston's complaints about
the ABC's coverage of the Iraq war. Yesterday
the ABA announced that Flint had decided to take
no further part in considering the Alston complaints
"in the interest of preserving public confidence"
in the ABA's integrity and impartiality.
statement from the ABA followed an emergency meeting
of the board members with Flint on Thursday to
express their concerns about the damage being
done to the regulator.
claims to have several witnesses to Jones's dinner
party statement about the PM and Flint, including
his manager, John Fordham. However, the "golden
tonsils" has his own axe to grind. His ratings
never recovered from Jones's defection to 2GB,
when he took many of 2UE's listeners with him.
Laws also feels he has been penalised harshly
by the ABA over his sponsorship arrangements but
that Jones got off lightly.
admits his decision to recount the now-infamous
dinner party conversation with Jones in November
1999 is partly a case of "payback".
However, he has expressed publicly what many people
would dare say only behind closed doors. "There
seems to be a certain fear of Alan. Maybe because,
you know, he's such a vicious old tart,"
Laws said on air.
for his claim about Jones's boasting at the dinner
party? "The statement, I'm telling you, was
made. So it now seems that either Alan Jones or
the Prime Minister is a liar."
Sydney Morning Herald
Minister of Australia
tuned in, by Greg Tingle
of the ratings, by Greg Tingle
stunt or fair comment, by Greg Tingle
Laws feels like walking out over merger: 27th
Jones: Broadcaster and Enigmatic Man, by Greg
Tim Bristow: A personal true tale of Australia's
legendary private investigator, by Greg Tingle
new breed of politicians, by Greg Tingle
Who Needs Protection? - 4th September 2003
Wilding - CLC
Robertson, Media Manager, ABA
Adams - 3rd April 2003
Markson - 2nd July 2003
Laws - Greg Tingle - 7th September 2001
Laws - Greg Tingle - 31st July 2002
Laws - Greg Tingle - 20th February 2003
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