Sunday, October 7, 2012

Silence Is Golden

The response to 2GB's startling announcement today that it is suspending indefinitely all advertising during The Alan Jones Breakfast Show has beat out bushfires, Margie Abbott and family tragedies to lead the Nightly news bulletins. The usual suspects have been all atwitter on social media, of course. Some are claiming victory, others are quietly mocking what is a pretty ridiculous statement, and others still are bemoaning the state of media.

It's mystifying that Mr Russell Tate, Honcho-in-Charge of Macquarie Radio Network, could release a statement so at odds with the right wing ideology of its listeners. 2GB is the Liberal Party's Mothership, captained by Alan Jones and crewed by Ray Hadley. There is nothing fair or balanced about 2GB, and they don't pretend otherwise. If you want to hear views ranging from right wing to extreme right wing, and including blatant anti-union monologues, unrelenting climate change denial and opposition to the carbon tax, anti-Islamic rhetoric, fear of "Creeping Sharia", insistence that asylum seekers are illegals, opposition to anything resembling LGBTI rights, and regular name-calling, 2GB will make you a happy radio listener, any time of the day or night.

And wouldn't you know it? People do listen. For Alan Jones, it's an audience of around 14-18% of the 4,000,000+ population (looking at the past year or so). Mr Tate might need to be reminded about the 80%+ of Sydney residents who don't listen to 2GB. They're consumers too.

The most recent radio ratings survey (Survey 6, 2012) saw 2GB's listener numbers drop in every shift. I doubt that the board of MRN were all that concerned though; 2GB remained at the top of the heap. That means big dollars...or it did, until a week ago, when advertisers started rethinking the wisdom of being associated with Mr Alan Jones. Over 70 businesses have decided to withdraw their advertising dollars, worth close to half a million dollars each week. According to Mr Tate's statement, this action by advertisers is due to a campaign of cyber-bullying, driven by a bunch of activists who don't even listen to 2GB.

How dare we?

Mr Tate chose to emphasise some facts in his statement, and I'm going to include a few of my own here.

“Since we now know these things to be fact, we have to conclude that the avalanche of telephone, email and Facebook demands to our advertisers to “boycott” the Alan Jones Breakfast Show, and the threats to destroy their businesses if they don’t comply, are coming almost entirely from people who do not listen to Alan Jones or 2GB at all – probably never have done and never will."

As a ruthless businessman, is only right and proper that his second concern (after the flow of dollars) is the people who consume his products: his audience, which happen to be primarily older and in Sydney.

Here's a fact for Mr Tate: many of your advertisers are national brands, with a potential customer base that far outweighs the number of 2GB listeners. Australians don't have to be 2GB listeners to be appalled by Alan Jones. We all get to be appalled, disgusted and angry, and we all get to express our disgust by choosing not to support the businesses that support Mr Jones. If enough people communicate with businesses and state that they don't want to deal with companies that support 2GB, those companies can - and should - make sane business decisions to protect their non-2GB market share.

Would Mr Tate prefer that we took other action? Of course he would, but we're not cyber-bullies, or even regular bullies. If he needs a lesson in what bullying looks like, he should ask Alan Jones or Ray Hadley. For the past week, the Destroy the Joint campaigners have been targeting Mr Tate's income stream. If he thinks thats bullying, he's a big sookylala.

And on it goes. Here is where Mr Tate has lost his credibility:

"What they do not have the right to do is on the one hand decide for our listeners who and what they are going to hear on the radio station they choose to listen to, and on the other hand decide for Australian based companies which media outlets they will or won’t use to advertise their products and services. They do not have the right to interfere with freedom of choice and they do not have the right to attempt to censor – not Alan Jones, not this radio network, not the people who choose to listen to it and not the companies who choose to advertise on it.

“What we are seeing here is 21st Century censorship, via cyber-bullying."

Mr Tate says that we don't have the right to decide what 2GB listeners get to hear on their radio station. He's right. 2GB can broadcast whatever the hell it wants to broadcast, and anyone who wants to can listen in. We can't make programming decisions for his station...but we can influence decisions. After all, that's what Mr Jones does each morning, five days a week: he seeks to influence his listeners' political views and consumer choices.

I remind Mr Tate that we exist in a market-driven economy, where he and his company are encouraged to operate responsible businesses and make healthy profits. It's not the fault of the market if the product he's offerring is no longer in fashion, past it's use-by date, dangerous or unpopular.

Yet Mr Tate is throwing around words like 'freedom of choice' and 'censor' - words he obviously doesn't understand. He accuses the Destroy The Joint campaign of attempting to censor 2GB content by forcing Mr Jones off air, while at the same time, he is prohibiting those brave souls who still want to advertise with Alan Jones from doing so, not to mention trying to undermine a passionate and sustained social media campaign.

Over 100,000 people have signed this petition, and over 11,000 people have "liked" the Destroy The Joint Facebook page. This isn't a bunch of bored teenagers making trouble during the school holidays, and it is not solely because of Mr Jones comments about Ms Gillard's father's death. The Destroy the Joint Facebook page was established weeks ago, in response to Mr Jones' last verbal faux pas, after which the page was named.

It's also worth noting that sheer weight of numbers does not equate to bullying, and tens of thousands of people campaigning for a single cause doesn't make it wrong; it makes it popular.

I wonder if Mr Tate even knows that at least some of 2GB's ex-advertisers made the decision to dump Mr Jones' programme from their advertising schedule independently of any social media backlash. Here's an excerpt from the letter I received this week from David McCarthy of Mercedez Benz:

"For us, the decision to withdraw advertising was a question of values and respect and the importance of civil discourse.

Our brand and our company could not accept that the comments made by Mr Jones were in any way acceptable and as such we withdrew our advertising support for his program.

We made the decision to remove our advertising from the show purely on the basis of the offensiveness of the comments made and that they comprehensively conflicted with our company values of respect of the individual.

We cannot see a circumstance that will see us returning to advertising on this show."

In a glorious irony, tonight's widespread coverage of Mr Tate's decision has ensured that the Alan Jones story remains top of mind for another news cycle, right in the place where his advertisers' products should be. Even now, the petition is attracting more signatures.

Meanwhile, drag your attention back to the Australian Liberal Party, and it's statement of values, summarised this way on their website. The emphasis is mine:

In short, we simply believe in individual freedom and free enterprise; and if you share this belief, then ours is the Party for you.

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