Alan Jones’ ‘highly offensive’ Jacinda Ardern comments breached broadcasting rules: ACMA

Alan Jones’ comments about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern breached broadcasting decency rules, but the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will not take further action due to the 2GB host’s imminent retirement and Macquarie Media’s response to Jones’ actions.

Jones was, however, forced to provide an on-air correction this morning for another breach of the rules, which occurred in the same broadcast when he made factually inaccurate comments about climate change.

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin (right) said Jones’ comments were ‘highly offensive’

The ACMA received 127 complaints for the segment, in which Jones said: “I just wonder whether Scott Morrison’s going to be fully briefed to shove a sock down her [Ardern’s] throat”, “Now I hope Scott Morrison gets tough here with a few backhanders”, and “I hope he goes for the throat this morning”.

One complainant said the comments went “far, far beyond any ‘generally accepted standards of decency’ that the station claims”, to which the licensee, Harbour Radio, responded: “Mr Jones’ audience would be familiar with his opinionated style.”

“The Broadcast in question was not gratuitous or baseless criticism of anyone, but a criticism of Ms Ardern’s conduct in public office; nor was it intended or directed at women generally,” the licensee continued.

“Mr Jones did not intend to convey any violent metaphor; the words spoken were accidental.”

But the ACMA agreed with the complainants in its investigation report – which totals more than 20,000 words – noting that there were no immediate corrections made for any ‘accidental’ slip-ups.

“The repeated use of violent metaphors by Mr Jones and his apparent encouragement of aggressive silencing of Ms Ardern was highly offensive and did not meet contemporary community expectations,” said ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin.

“This was evident in the public display of outrage from the community, actions by advertisers and actions by then chairman of Macquarie Media who publicly stated any recurrence of this type of comment would result in the termination of Mr Jones’ contract.

“Acknowledging that the broadcast had caused offence to many in the community, 2GB did not oppose ACMA’s breach finding in relation to decency.”

Despite originally defending the response as “wilful misinterpretation”, Jones subsequently made an on-air apology, clarified his statements on-air the following day, and sent Ardern a written apology. But, he was warned, another misstep would lead to the termination of his contract.

More than 100 brands boycotted Jones’ breakfast show after the comments, leading to a sizeable shrinkage of advertising revenue, an apology from Macquarie Media to advertisers, and a review of 2GB’s content.

“Given the imminent retirement of Mr Jones from 2GB and the actions taken by Macquarie Media and Mr Jones at the time, the ACMA is not taking further action against the licensee for breach of the decency rules,” O’Loughlin added.

Hugh Marks, CEO of Nine – which owns Macquarie Media – has acknowledged Jones’ comments impacted revenues

The comments about Ardern at the centre of the latest ruling, which went to air last August, were made in the context of a discussion on climate change. He incorrectly stated that biomass is a fossil fuel, and presented figures regarding Australia and New Zealand’s percentage of energy use from solar and wind.

The ACMA found that these comparisons were not based on like-for-like data.

“The factual error and inconsistent information were used to incorrectly portray that Australia generates more of its energy from renewables than New Zealand,” O’Loughlin explained.

Jones corrected the factually incorrect statements on-air this morning, and 2GB will incorporate the ACMA’s findings into future staff training.

Ben Fordham will fill the spot left vacant by Jones

However, despite the two breaches, the ACMA ruled that Jones did not incite or encourage violence, or incite hatred against, or serious contempt or severe ridicule, on the basis of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or race.

“The ACMA also acknowledges that the references to Ms Ardern could build a negative association in the listener that a female leader was less competent, as his tone was condescending at times, including calling her ‘darling’,” the report read.

“However, these connotations were unlikely in all the circumstances to have incited, in a reasonable listener, a reaction that could be described as ‘serious contempt’ or ‘severe ridicule’ against Ms Ardern because she is a woman.”

It isn’t the first time the ACMA has ruled against Jones. His inflammatory comments in the lead up to the Cronulla Riots breached the code, as did using the ‘n-word’ on air. He has had more ACMA rulings against him than any other radio presenter, and, in 2012, the watchdog even forced 2GB to temporarily hire fact checkers to confirm the accuracy of Jones’ scripts before he went to air.

Despite beginning a fresh two-year contract 10 months ago, Jones announced last week that he would be retiring at the end of the month after dominating 226 radio surveys due to health concerns. Ben Fordham will replace him, while Neil Breen will step into the Brisbane 4BC breakfast role.


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