Nine says it won’t take directions from ‘anonymous Twitterati’ following Alan Jones scandal

Senior executives from both News Corp and Nine have said they won’t listen to anonymous activist groups like Sleeping Giants and Mad Fucking Witches when it comes to advertising boycotts like that orchestrated against 2GB’s Alan Jones.

Nine’s managing director of publishing Chris Janz and The Australian’s managing director Nicholas Gray agreed that their focus is on readers and advertisers, not online groups. Janz stressed that while people are “entitled to their view”, those views don’t necessarily impact business decisions made by Nine, a majority shareholder in 2GB’s Macquarie Media.

The panel (L-R): Neil Ackland, Rebecca Costello, Nicholas Gray and Chris Janz

“I think we have a really vibrant local media scene where a whole range of views are put forward in various publications and other outlets. What’s concerning is when we start suppressing certain views and certain opinions and don’t offer that broad church across the media because of groups that are anonymous,” Janz said on a panel at Mumbrella’s Publish conference on Thursday.

“We absolutely listen to our readers and our subscribers. Within my business, I wouldn’t change behaviour based on anonymous Twitterati … and clearly our Charter of Editorial Independence doesn’t allow us to do that anyway if I choose to do so.”

Last month, Nine, which has a 54.5% share in Macquarie, launched a takeover bid for the rest of Macquarie.

Over 100 advertisers pulled support for Jones’ show after he said Prime Minister Scott Morrison should shove a sock down New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern’s throat, and Ardern should be “backhanded”. Regulator the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) received over 100 complaints about the comments, which were made on-air on 15 August.

Macquarie promised Jones’ contract will be terminated should he make similar comments again – Nine CEO Hugh Marks added the company could survive the loss – plus apologised to advertisers, and commenced a review of 2GB’s content. However, the apology letter also put blame on groups like Sleeping Giants and Mad Fucking Witches, both of which led and coordinated the campaign demanding advertisers pull support from Jones’ show.

“Throughout this incident, we have experienced the ability of offended groups to greatly amplify their complaints, and to actively disrupt you, our clients and your staff, who have done no more than seek to engage with the audience which chooses to listen to us,” Macquarie Media chairperson Russell Tate wrote to advertisers.

Sleeping Giants responded with: “Chairman Tate should be embarrassed to have lead [sic] the company that allowed this to happen”.

The Australian’s Nicholas Gray said he hasn’t dealt with the kind of backlash facing Jones and Macquarie Media, but referenced the “little bit of noise” his newspaper faced when it published a cartoon by Bill Leak that appeared to suggest Indigenous fathers cannot remember their children’s’ names. It was widely deemed racist.

“So The Australian and the publications I run haven’t really been touched by that. When Bill Leak published his confrontational cartoon a few years ago, there was a little bit of noise then and there were a couple of people who put out on Twitter ‘We’re going to withdraw our advertising from The Australian’,” Gray said on the Publish panel.

“But, you know, we sort of reached out to those customers and understood pretty quickly that that was a decision that had been made at a certain level rather than a sort of meaningful boycott. You’ve got to be conscious of these things, you’ve got to listen to what your advertisers are telling you, and we speak to our advertisers all the time, but we’re more focussed on listening to what they say rather than listening to groups.”

Meanwhile, fellow panellist Rebecca Costello, CEO of Schwartz Media, which publishes The Saturday Paper, said the question of whether she’s concerned about activist groups isn’t one she has to grapple with: “I’m just not sure it’s relevant to us as a progressive publisher”.


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