Twelve years ago, I stepped into barristers' chambers for the first time. I was impressed by the décor - all that smoothly varnished timber combined with leather, all built for luxurious tastes. It was as if barristers wanted to feel like they were working out of a Rolls-Royce.
One of my favourite barristers was eventually appointed to the bench. After many years of shouting lunches to junior solicitors, he now presided over a court list, terrorising junior solicitors with threats to strike out entire legal proceedings and order unsuccessful solicitors pay legal costs out of their own pocket. Did solicitors who used to regularly brief him receive favourable treatment? Is the Pope Muslim?
We've read and heard plenty about the Australian Communications and Media Authority's 80-odd page decision concerning comments made by Alan Jones in the lead-up to the Cronulla riots in December 2005. What sticks out most in my mind is the hubris of the guilty parties. The Australian said Alan Jones claimed that authority head Chris Chapman had "more jobs than I've had feeds" and that he has gone around town many times, "to me and to others, seeking references to be written for his appointment to a stack of jobs".
John Singleton, head of 2GB, is also quoted as confirming he had a personal friendship with Chapman off the field. "I don't want to get personal with Chris, I like Chris but he has called on Alan and me for many favours over the years and we've both been forthcoming," he said. "So I'm personally disappointed, but maybe he had no legal alternative."
If I stood up before every former-barrister judge I had ever briefed and demanded a favourable decision based on the number of briefs given, I'd be struck off the roll of solicitors. And rightly so. Judges are independent arbiters. Independent even of their former paymasters.
Yet in the case of Jones, 2GB and the authority, we see Communications Minister Helen Coonan effectively threatening to gag the independent watchdog she appointed. Coonan, a former barrister, said, "Alan Jones has made an indelible mark on broadcasting during his long and outstanding career and I encourage the industry to address any concerns that they might have with the current code with a review to ensure it best reflects community standards."
In other words, Coonan is effectively inviting commercial radio to gang up on the authority and Chapman should they be unhappy about the outcomes they receive. Especially if the outcomes cost them big dollars.
Yet this same code was developed by industry in the first place. That's why it's called a Code of Practice, not an Act or a regulation. As a major talkback broadcaster, 2GB would have had plenty of input in developing the code.
It gets better. Jones names authority officials on air and then claims they have little experience or knowledge of talkback radio. Yes, of course, Alan. Talkback radio is an esoteric science requiring years of education and training. It's even harder than coaching rugby or teaching English. Only someone with experience in talkback should be umpire.
With that in mind, I'd like to suggest to Coonan that she consider replacing Chapman with a candidate with real experience in talkback radio. Someone like John Laws. But then, I dare say Jones won't like Lawsey either. Especially after Laws accused Jones of threatening the PM in 2000 if he didn't appoint his old friend Professor David Flint as chairman of the broadcasting watchdog.
Or perhaps Jones would like to see Flint returned? No, that is out of the question. What experience does Flint have in talkback radio?
Of course, what this really boils down to is dollars and cents. Jones's morning rants bring him a large audience. Admittedly, most are over 55. But this is a growing demographic with a lifetime of savings, investments and superannuation.
Advertisers want this market, but also don't wish to offend their other customers or their staff. I doubt senior company managers from Middle Eastern backgrounds (such as those in Westfield or NAB) would want their advertising budget spent on broadcasters who talk about bikie gangs taking on Middle Eastern thugs on the eve of Australia's worst race riots this century.
Radio stations survive on advertising dollars. Just as small businesses in Cronulla survive on weekend crowds down at the beach. Your average Cronulla shopkeeper doesn't mind if the dollars come from Middle Eastern or Anglo-Saxon people. Yet they suffered because certain sentiments were played out both on radio and on the beach, sentiments that they never expressed.
It's only fair that a Sydney radio station and shock jock suffer a little pain. Jones didn't have to read offensive and racist emails on air. He didn't have to mention bikie gangs gathering at railway stations. If anything, Jones and 2GB got off lightly. They should cop the effects of the law, just like the rest of us do.
Surely shock jocks, of all people, wouldn't want to see anyone get away with breaking the law?