Alan Jones faces closer supervision of his 2GB radio show after the media watchdog found the station failed to try hard enough to ensure his statements on climate change were accurate. However, he has been cleared over comments that Julia Gillard should be put in a chaff bag and thrown out to sea.
The rulings from the Australian Communications and Media Authority come after “wide ranging and unusually complex investigations” into several complaints against Jones and fellow 2GB presenter Chris Smith.
2GB was unable to demonstrate to ACMA that reasonable steps had been taken to ensure the accuracy of Jones’ statement in March last year that “human beings produce 0.001% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”.
His claim – presented as a statement rather than opinion – was highly controversial because it conflicts with the majority of scientific opinion on the causes of climate change which puts the figure closer to 30%.
ACMA did not, however, rule on whether or not that the claim was inaccurate – it focused on the fact that the station could not demonstrate that it had made proper efforts to ensure it was correct.
ACMA has few immediate sanctions available to it, with legislation giving it the ability to add conditions to licence ownership which could in time see a licence revoked but not, for instance, the ability to impose immediate fines or have somebody taken off air.
As part of today’s ruling, 2GB owner Harbour Radio will review its procedures and must agree with ACMA a plan that will see closer supervision of its production teams to ensure what is broadcast is accurate. The move is a potentially uncomfortable one for Jones, who personally drives the content of his show.
ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said: “‘Reasonable efforts’ is more than merely providing production resources, researchers and writers.”
Jones insists that he is a commentator and should not be held to journalistic standards. Last year he told Mumbrella editor Tim Burrowes: “It’s called the Alan Jones Show for one very special reason – this is what Alan Jones thinks. I’m a broadcaster – I don’t pretend to be a journalist.”
ACMA also examined Jones’ comments in June last year that Sydney mayor Clover Moore and PM Julia Gillard should be put in a chaff bag “and throw them both out to sea”.
However, although the authority said that Jones’ comments were “very disrespectful and disparaging”, they did not breach guidelines because they would not be taken literally so did not amount to incitement. In 2007, ACMA ruled that Jones’ comments in the lead up to the Cronulla riots did incite violence.
ACMA also found faults in 2GB’s complaint-handling process including failures to respond in time and failing to tell complainants that they could take the matter to ACMA. The station has changed its complaint handling systems as a result.
ACMA also looked into complaints against the Chris Smith Afternoon Show giving airtime to climate change sceptics, and whether listeners had been presented with significant alternative viewpoints from “real climate change scientists”. ACMA ruled that 2GB had done enough, so there was no breach.