Monday, 8 October 2012

2GB operator holds out the white flag

Things to think about: Russell Tate.
The owner of 2GB, Macquarie Radio Network, has suspended all advertising on Alan Jones' program following complaints from advertisers. Over 60 advertisers had already pulled their advertising from the show. MRN executive chairman Russell Tate spoke with a number of media outlets yesterday in an effort to defuse the issue. The Australian reports this morning that
[Tate] told [us] he had spoken with advertisers on Saturday who were faced with meltdowns on their switchboards and a unprecedented stream of angry online messages complaining about their association with The Alan Jones Breakfast Show.
The story is paywalled. And yesterday Tate told the ABC that
"The nature, tone and volume of the reaction to Jones's remarks, and in particular the threats being made through social media to companies advertising in Jones' program and the disruption being caused to their businesses, have made it necessary for MRN to call some 'time out'."
On the news yesterday evening Tate repeated the claim that "threats" were received by the show's advertisers but their nature was not made clear. It sounds like a desperate bluff.  The ABC story was circulated widely on the internet in the wake of Tate's announcement and drew an angry response from netizens suspicious of Tate's accusations of "21st Century censorship, via cyber bullying" and provoked by the defensive nature of the announcement. Many were disappointed that Tate appears to have misunderstood the true nature of the activism unleashed by the response online to Alan Jones' comments that were reported a week ago about Julia Gillard's father. There was little sympathy either for the advertisers involved or for MRN as Jones' employer.

MRN's audience is of course free to listen to what it chooses to listen to, and companies are free to advertise where they choose, as Tate says, but individuals using social media to organise are also free to complain to its advertisers about an affiliation they believe is fatally tainted by association with a media figure whose conduct in the public sphere has angered so many for such a long time. Tate oddly attributes the activism he appeared in the media to address to shadowy "organisations". And now he wants to sit down and have a powow:
"We'll be doing that over the next week or so and I would personally also welcome discussion with representatives of the organisations behind the totally unwarranted pressure being put on our advertisers.
"But any discussion will need to be face to face, not hiding behind a keyboard."
It's all very strange, very defensive, and very impolitic. Here are shades of slurs that have emanated from time to time from the mainstream media about "bloggers in their mothers' basements". Just as media organisations have in the past levelled such criticism at individuals empowered by the internet who are using tools invented to serve as a public platform for broad community participation, Tate imputes anarchic and illegitimate motivations to such people. The mainstream media's financial difficulties have caused them to resort to such insulting phraseology (although they are happy to receive comments on the stories they post online). Again, in Tate's case, it is financial hardship that has inspired recourse to this old and tired trope. People who use Twitter have seen this kind of behaviour before, so Tate is not breaking new ground. But if he wants to deal effectively with those people he must review his attitude.

Tate's announcement, and the severe financial cost to the company he leads of Jones' outrageous behaviour, is probably unprecedented anywhere in the developed world. As I mentioned in a post a week ago:
In the US, conservative radio jock Rush Limbaugh continues to work despite being forced to apologise for earlier this year calling a Georgetown University Law Center student a "slut" and "prostitute" after she called publicly for contraceptives to be covered by insurance.
It looks increasingly likely that Jones will not survive the current imbroglio. As a publicly-traded company, MRN has obligations to its shareholders. The company is clearly suffering, as they are. The Australian's story this morning reports:
Media buyers have estimated the cost in lost advertising revenue will run into millions of dollars. The advertiser walkout has already sent Macquarie's share price plunging, wiping millions of dollars from its market value.
So Tate is in a position where he either has to sack Jones or else come to an accommodation with people who he has not yet labelled "trolls". Words Tate uses in his interview with the News Ltd reporter suggest that the company wants to put a close to the episode as soon as possible, saying that "we're not taking this action for the short term". "I think we've got to put a stake in the ground and sort some things out here; otherwise there won't be a sensible medium in the long term." Where the stake deployed by Tate and his managers might actually be placed is no longer up to Jones, who appears to have been comprehensively sidelined at this point in time. His fate is very much, now, in the hands of other people, including those he has alienated through his behaviour for such a long time.

The current debacle is out of control, as far as MRN is concerned. The company has never seen anything like this before, and possibly noone else has, either. They are clearly out of their depth and don't understand the nature of what they're dealing with. It is, in a manner of speaking, their Afghanistan.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

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