Comment from Peter Saxon
I was listening to George and Paul on 2GB one recent Saturday morning and was surprised to hear Sydney Morning Herald Political and International Editor, Peter Hartcher in the regular guest spot, normally reserved for the likes of The Australian’s Dennis Shanahan or Greg Sheridan.
2GB presenters have generally shared a closer affinity with News Corp’s conservative publications such as The Daily Telegraph and The Oz and have viewed its own majority shareholder’s Fairfax offerings, SMH and The Age, as far too left wing for the tastes of their audiences. In the name of editorial independence, or perhaps in the maxim, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” Fairfax turned a blind eye to the frosty relationship between its siblings, thus forgoing valuable opportunities to cross-promote its news outlets with its radio stations, allowing its competitors to benefit instead.
Sources suggest that Fairfax’s new owners, Nine Entertainment Co, with its powerful television network in the mix, is not prepared to allow such leaking of the company’s valuable resources to continue. Much of the business case for the merger was predicated on the cost efficiencies of combining newsrooms and cross-promoting the various platforms under the new entity’s banner.
In the meantime, contract negotiations with Alan Jones drag on, with little more than a month before the June 30 deadline. Jones, it is said, has been offered a contract, at 2 million dollars a year – half that of his current salary – in part, as a measure to claw back some of the $3.7 million Jones cost his employer in the Wagner family defamation case. If he doesn’t accept it, then 2GB, as reported in the Sunday Telegraph, is set to insert Ray Hadley into Breakfast with Steve Price to take over Mornings.
To us mere mortals, $2 million is “funny money.” Few of us could contemplate losing 2 million dollars of income and still have $2 million left. It’s a deal most of us would be happy to take. But for people like Jones, at 78, in failing health and having accumulated massive wealth, it’s not about the money any more but the power.
The real issue here is who’s running 2GB, its management or Alan Jones? It’s a question that is central to a number of causes that Jones has taken on in recent times. Who runs the Opera House, its General Manager, Louise Herron or Alan Jones? Who decides government policy, elected parliamentarians or Alan Jones? And most recently, who runs Rugby Australia, its CEO Raelene Castle or Alan Jones?
Jones has long been a critic of Ms Castle and her administration – not without some justification – but as usual, he goes over the top in his condemnation. “Nuance,” it seems, is a word superfluous to the needs of a shock jock in the modern era.
In this case Jones has taken the side of outspoken rugby player and fundamentalist Christian, Israel Folau and used it as a vehicle by which to attack the Rugby Australia (RA) administration which is poised to terminate the player’s $4 million contract for breaching the sport’s code of conduct. Folau, like Jones on 2GB, is arguably the team’s best player. There’s a natural affinity between the pair as they are both trying to assert their authority to “do their own thing” without interference from their respective employers.
Both have been handed breach notices by administrators for ‘speaking out of turn,’ so to speak, and neither has graciously accepted their employers’ complaints.
Jones, who is unaccustomed to being carpeted as if a common employee, has been admonished for costing his employer $3.7 million in damages for asserting on air, on 27 occasions, that Queensland’s Wagner family were responsible for the deaths of 12 people, including two children, in the 2011 Grantham floods when a quarry wall owned by the family collapsed.
He has also been reprimanded for pleading his case for his contract to be renewed by taking calls from long time rusted on fans such as “Stephanie” the Mosman Matron with the plum in her mouth, who waxed lyrical at length to his audience saying, “When you were at 2UE, the nation’s leading broadcaster, that station was at the top of the tree. When you went to 2GB, (it was) thrashing around at 2 per cent in its death throes … When you left 2UE, we all came with you. If for some reason you move somewhere else, we go.”
An article by Annette Sharp in the Sunday Telegraph suggested that MacRadio CEO Adam Lang had lost patience with Jones who failed to dump such calls when they criticised 2GB management, Jones’s fellow broadcasters and the board of Macquarie’s parent company, Nine.
Israel Folau was raised a Mormon, but later converted to the Assemblies of God Pentecostal church. In 2017, he dissented from Rugby Australia’s announcement of support for the ‘Yes’ case in the national plebiscite on same-sex marriage, In recent weeks he expressed on social media the Pentecostal view that hell awaits drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters.
Personally, I’d fall at the first hurdle. I don’t “believe” but know for a fact that hell on earth awaits me if I come home drunk at 2am and find my wife still awake. And if I’d somehow managed to survive, I’d definitely fall at the seventh hurdle. Maybe a couple of the others too, depending on your definition.
I have no doubt that Folau sincerely believes in what he preaches and believes it his duty to spread ‘the good news of the lord’ as he and his sect sees it. None of it really offends me because my belief is that one should be tolerant of others’ beliefs as long as there’s no malice in what they say.
But if you happen to be a member of the LGTBQI community that has been subjected to persecution and violence for millennia, and still is in many parts of the world, then you could be forgiven for taking Folau’s words to mean that you are somehow not of his lord’s making. Despite that community having won a popular vote for the same rights as every other citizen, in Israel Folau’s world, you remain a sinner for something you can no more change than your skin colour.
Nonetheless, Folau is entitled to his beliefs. If he were a private citizen, no-one would bother with him. The question is: as a highly paid employee of RA, is he entitled to express those beliefs in public using the platform and megaphone that the game of rugby provides?
Alan Jones and his cohort maintain that this issue is all about free speech and freedom of religion. The independent three-person panel appointed to adjudicate on this matter begged to differ. The way they see it is, Folau breached the codes of conduct in his contract with AR after being previously warned not to repeat a similar occurrence. Simple as that.
It’s disingenuous to say, as many have said, that somehow RA is at war with Christianity. Ridiculous. How many times do you see players scoring a try and looking up to the heavens or pointing to a cross drawn on their wrist band to signify their thanks to Jesus? No one bats an eyelid when it happens. Imagine the uproar if Israel had chosen a less firey passage from the bible such as “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” or “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” We’ll there’d be no uproar, would there?
With great respect to the Pentecostal church, it does not represent all of Christianity. In fact a fairly narrow band. There are many mainstream churches that embrace gay people and no longer see it as a condition that should somehow be cured.
The core of the problem is that regardless of whether you agree with Israel Folau’s beliefs or not, or whether you agree with me or not, what is undeniable is that what he said about homosexuals going to hell is divisive – proven by the fact that it has been the dominant topic in sport for weeks. Instead of talking about the Wallabies chances at the upcoming World Cup everyone’s pre-occupied with this saga that’s been blown out of all proportion at great detriment to the game.
It has certainly drawn the attention of rugby’s sponsors. To add to RA’s problem, their marquee sponsor, QANTAS has been drawn into the fray. Reading the comments section in some online publications many readers siding with Folau have accused the airline of being complicit in stifling Folau’s rights to free speech. Worse still, they suggest that it’s all because its CEO, Alan Joyce is gay.
These are the types of controversies no sponsor wants to be part of whether it’s QANTAS or shoemaker ASICS, who have already terminated their personal sponsorship of Folau.
Perhaps even worse, as highly respected coach and columnist, Roy Masters wrote, it’s incredibly disruptive for the team. While some players who share Folau’s beliefs are sticking by him, others are distancing themselves from him. It’s a view shared by current Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. The last thing he wants is a team distracted and divided going into the world cup.
In today’s world of instant communication no one of Folau’s stature can escape scrutiny. Like it or not, you are Israel Folau, rugby star, 24/7. And for that, you are compensated with staggering amounts of money from RA and the sponsorships its brand and your’s attract.
Israel, if you’re reading this, allow me to make some suggestions:
You are entitled to your beliefs, but so is everyone else. Be tolerant and respectful. Keep away from divisive statements, they don’t help anything other than cause friction that your employer and sponsors don’t need.
You can’t have it both ways. Being well aware of your obligations on and off the field, you can’t sign a contract, take the money and then disregard the parts of the deal you don’t like.
Yes, you can always leave the game for your beliefs. But without the media attention derived from rugby, you’ll soon be forgotten and be back preaching to the converted. Finally, think of all that RA money going to waste that you could be putting to good use through your church. Are you really prepared to give that up just because RA has asked you to dial back the fire and brimstone a tad in public?
In the end both RA and the new Macquarie Radio/Nine entity must take firm control of their own assets. No player can be bigger than the game and no radio presenter can be bigger than the station.
As a player, Folau is brilliant. But he is only one in a 15 – man team. And as they say, ‘a champion team will always beat a team of champions.’
Jones, of course, is one of a kind and has a much greater potential to cost 2GB millions if he were to leave. But then, at 78 and reportedly unwell, they are going to have to deal with his departure sooner or later.