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The new zealots and Alan Jones

By Nick Ferrett - posted Tuesday, 9 October 2012

There are many political zealots in the world, and they occur at both ends of the political spectrum. One common feature of such zealots, left or right, is that when they're outraged, it is not enough that they be outraged, everyone else must be outraged also. One way that this reveals itself is in the organisation of boycotts.

The current effort to collectively boycott sponsors of Alan Jones is designed to change behaviour. They don't want Mr Jones to be allowed to broadcast what he wants to broadcast anymore. They want to change his behaviour, despite the fact that a very large number of people – his audience – enjoy what he broadcasts.

These consumer boycotts have a history, although it is more on the conservative right than on the militant left. Morals campaigners in the second half of the twentieth century were hyper-vigilant. Fighting a losing battle, they first lost the battle to prevent any mention of sex in public broadcasts, then to prevent any mention of anything but heterosexual sex, then to prevent the portrayal of any kind of homosexuality. Remember how "daring" some 90's television programs were for showing two people of the same gender kissing?


The morals campaigners would organise telephone campaigns directed both at broadcasters and the sponsors of the television shows. The point was to change behaviour, to stop the broadcasters from broadcasting and the sponsors from advertising. They employed economic weaponry to obtain a social outcome.

The telephone campaign still has currency; witness the bullying of receptionists employed by Alan Jones' sponsors over the last few days. Now, the telephone campaign is an adjunct to a Facebook campaign: an effort to recruit as many people as possible with a view to scaring sponsors into a particular path of conduct.

The common thread in the conduct of the new zealots and the old is that, having made their minds up about what is acceptable, they intend to impose that view on everyone. The campaign against Jones is being defended with the mealy-mouthed explanation that all they are doing is expressing their view, but that is a lie. They demand not only that their obvious right – to express their views on whatever medium they can – but that the person with whom they disagree be sacked.

The corollary is that the very large number of people who enjoy listening to Mr Jones should not be permitted that pleasure because the zealots do not consider Mr Jones' views fit for consumption by his devoted audience. The paternalism of that is staggering, and those who espouse it seek to separate Mr Jones from his audience by saying he exploits them. They view the audience as unsophisticated, unable to decide whether or not they agree with Mr Jones on any given issue. Mr Jones' audience cannot, for example, upon hearing Mr Jones' tasteless comments about the Prime Minister's father, decide whether or not it is sufficient reason to stop listening to Mr Jones' show.

One other thing: the genii organising the campaign against Alan Jones might want to consider section 45D of the Competition and Consumer Act. It prohibits the intimidation of people to prevent them buying things from a company. The boycotters are acting in concert to bully advertisers into refusing to advertise on 2GB.

Leaving aside whether the boycotters have actually done anything illegal, there is a larger point. The law exists because of an acceptance that public welfare is best served by allowing choice in the economy. When that choice is limited, public welfare is reduced. If a group of people can stop you from buying their competitor's product, they can charge you much more for their product.


There is an analogy in the marketplace of ideas: if there is no-one saying anything to contradict the views of the boycotters, they won't have to do anything to justify their own views.

Alan Jones is, I think, a boor. His comments about John Gillard were in poor taste. His apology for them was half-hearted. It is difficult to detect any real contrition for them. If I lived in Sydney, I probably wouldn't listen to his show. If I did, I probably wouldn't find his comments about John Gillard enough to change my mind about listening to him. I can't say I haven't made tasteless jokes of my own from time to time.

The thing is, the question of whether I listen to him or not is one I am perfectly capable of making. I don't need morals campaigners to tell me what I am able to hear on the radio or watch on the television or read in the newspapers. My qualification for making the decision about what views I will consume (and criticise) is not that I am a lawyer, or that I am of above average intelligence. It is that, like the very many people who listen to Alan Jones, I am a functioning adult, capable of, and entitled to, make up my own mind about these things.

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About the Author

Nick Ferrett is a Brisbane-based Barrister.

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