Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jonestown by Chris Masters

This came out in 2006, and I have finally read it. It is an unauthorised biography of Alan Jones; radio broadcaster, former national rugby union coach, and one of the most powerful men in Australia.

I am miles away from the typical Jones audience profile. His people are generally retirees in Sydney (his prime market) or regional Australia (where his show is syndicated). His ratings are enormous, and over the years he has convinced federal and NSW politicians that his opinions need to be listened to, as he is so in tune with public opinion. This book traces his rise, and looks at how this man with many gifts but enormous flaws came to wield so much power.

I found it a gripping story. He is a simply loathsome man, hypocritical, foul-mouthed and abusive, manipulative and greedy. He has helped many, many people over the years, but Masters demonstrates that this pattern of behaviour always has Alan as the main beneficiary in the end.

His career is built on accepting money to state as "opinion" material faxed to him by his paying customers. What I have never understood is how anyone can fail to see that this is the process at work. Why would anyone buy something on his recommendation? Why would any politician allow him to influence policy? When listeners hear him praise a policy, person or product don't they remember that last month he was tearing them to shreds? Apparently not.

Anyway - it's a great read if you enjoy a forensic dissection of someone who deserves it. Reading the details of the Australian Broadcasting Authorities "Cash for Comment" enquiries was marvellous. Jones insisted to the enquiry that material only made it on his show if it was interesting news. The enquiry heard tapes of some of his "unbiased editorial comment" such as;
"I've had so many calls about mobile phones. Well Optus have got a new Freestyle pack … so that's Optus Freestyle. Sounds interesting. Go into any Optus mobile outlet or ring 13 39 99 to find your nearest Optus World…" 
Counsel for the ABA, Julian Burnside QC, asked if that was really news. "Well, it is interesting isn't it Mr Burnside?" When a contract was produced showing that he was required to promote Optus on air and denigrate their competition, Telstra, Jones claimed it was a coincidence that he done just that, as in fact he had never read the contract. The warmth for Optus was purely his personal opinion. He was asked if he would ever sign a contract with Telstra. "Never".

Three years later on 17 July 2002 his radio station accepted $1.2 million to have him speak positively about Telstra. The ABA found that
"prior to the commercial agreement Alan Jones made a number of on air statements critical of Telstra, especially with respect to its fees and charges … [on] 17 April, 18 April, 22 April (twice), 23 April (twice) 26 April and 11 July 2002. From 17 July onwards, however, the material provided to the ABA records Jones making predominantly positive commentary, supporting Telstra's service standards, public image and credibility".
Heh. Great stuff. But you know what? He was cleared of breaching the ABA code. The Chairman of the ABA was a big Alan fan. So, for all the fun of reading about him being caught out lying, deceiving and manipulating, the really sad thing at the end of the day is he's still doing it, and no-one has ever really laid a glove on him.

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