From the SMH:
No victor in fight over inflammatory talkback
Alan Jones’s legal case over anti-Lebanese comments has been lost, but inflammatory jocks might not change their tune, writes David Marr.
Though a good deal less than a day’s pay for Alan Jones, the $10,000 he and 2GB were ordered to pay last week for vilifying Lebanese in Australia is the first punishment inflicted on either the talkback king or his station for attacks on Lebanese Muslims that reached their depths in the days before the Cronulla riots in the summer of 2005.
Jones and 2GB have been ordered to mend their ways in the past but never punished until a few days before Christmas, when the Administrative Decisions Tribunal of NSW upheld a complaint of racial vilification brought by the Sydney Lebanese identity Keysar Trad. The three-member tribunal ordered Jones and his station to pay damages of $10,000 within 21 days and to prepare over summer a form of apology acceptable to Trad.
Trad has promised the cheque to a Muslim charity: the respite centre run by the Australian Council for Women’s Affairs. It has yet to arrive. Negotiations on the apology have not begun. On past form, Jones seems someone not happy to admit he’s in the wrong. Saying sorry isn’t easy for Alan Belford Jones.
Trad’s brawls with 2GB and Jones over nearly five years have seen his own reputation shredded in the NSW Supreme Court and Jones dogged by investigations and hearings, all strenuously defended by 2GB. These aren’t over but at this point the scorecard reads: one devastating loss for Trad in the courts and two losses for Jones before tribunals. The legal fees paid by 2GB must now run into millions.
What’s different this time is the political silence. When the Australian Communications and Media Authority ruled Jones broadcast material in the days before the Cronulla riots ”likely to encourage violence or brutality”, the prime minister, John Howard, leapt to the defence: ”I don’t think he’s a person who encourages prejudice in the Australian community, not for one moment, but he is a person who articulates what a lot of people think.”
But last week’s decision by the NSW tribunal seems to have brought no high-powered supporters out of the woodwork. Perhaps they are busy with Christmas but the silence has been telling. Indeed, the decision has been only briefly reported but it’s quite a tale, and the tribunal’s 64-page critique of the broadcaster’s methods looks destined to become prescribed reading for lawyers, students and anyone wanting to know how talkback radio works to excite its audience.
This episode in the tangled saga of talkback and Islam goes back to April 2005, when the Muslim zealot and boxing champ Sheik Faiz Mohamad held a meeting in Bankstown town hall in which he made a number of appalling pronouncements about rape victims. Each woman has, he declared, no one to blame but herself. ”She displayed her beauty to the entire world. She degraded herself by being an object of sexual desire and thus becoming vulnerable to man, who looks at her for gratification of his sexual urge.”
Reporting this rant in The Sun-Herald, Miranda Devine made it clear that Mohamad represented an extreme point of view in his own community. It was something Jones obscured when he leapt on to the story over the next few days. The tribunal was to accept that Jones’s target became all male Lebanese Muslims. Into the mix the broadcaster brought “car hoons” racing through The Rocks and louts seen on television sniggering at Anzac Day. He declared that the nation’s security was in peril.
“If ever there was a clear example that Lebanese males in their vast numbers not only hate our country but our heritage, this was it,” Jones raged. “They’ve got no connection to us. They simply rape, pillage and plunder a nation that’s taken them in. No one who’s written to me could believe what they saw. Without exception, you asked what did we do as a nation to have this vermin infect us like this. And what about the sacrifices of our war dead, made for this country to make it what it is today, and to have these mongrels laugh at them on national television?”
The tribunal called this ”reckless hyperbole calculated to agitate and excite his audience”. It condemned Jones’s broadcasting technique in a single cool sentence: ”Rather than dispassionately analysing the evidence and commenting on it, Mr Jones appears to have been induced or stimulated by his own preconceptions to place highly exaggerated and distorted interpretations on the few objective facts apparently known to him.”
Listeners had supplied much of Jones’s anti-Lebanese rhetoric in what the tribunal described as ”a stimulatory effect working in both directions”. They said: ”He stimulates, urges and agitates his listeners and correspondents with his emotive editorials and, unsurprisingly, often receives as feedback highly inflamed and inflammatory comment more or less echoing his provocative commentary.”
They condemned Jones’s toying with vigilante solutions. ”It is difficult to imagine circumstances in which it is reasonable for a commentator in a society ruled by law either directly or indirectly to endorse, or imply endorsement of, violent solutions to social issues or problems.” In the view of the tribunal, Jones failed to condemn listeners’ talk of tracking down the ”hoons” and ”dealing with them”. The tribunal found: ”Mr Jones’s support implied a partiality for a vigilante solution to the problem.”
Overall it concluded that Jones’s comments in those days after Mohamad’s sermon ”could only be regarded as an incitement to listeners to hate and hold the Lebanese Muslim community and Lebanese males in serious contempt”. It upheld Trad’s complaints of racial vilification against both Jones and 2GB and decreed damages be paid and apologies made.
Trad, then a leading member of the Lebanese Muslim Association and spokesman for his friend the cleric Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali, had complained immediately about the broadcasts, but it took from April 2005 until August 2009 for the Administrative Decisions Tribunal to hear the complaint. Much of the delay was due to intense – but largely fruitless – legal skirmishing by 2GB.
Meanwhile, the riot erupted in Cronulla after a week of vilification from a number of radio commentators. Jones called Lebanese ”scum” and ”grubs” and appeared to welcome the suggestion that bikie gangs should confront Lebanese as they arrive at Cronulla railway station. Once again Jones and his listeners were feeding each other’s excitement. Once again the shock jock only sometimes expressly condemned talk of vigilante action.
In the immediate aftermath of the riot, Trad himself came under attack from 2GB’s Jason Morrison. Trad had attacked the role of the media at a public meeting and next day on air, Morrison called him ”a disgraceful and dangerous individual who incited violence, hatred and racism” and went on to accuse Trad of being ”responsible for more misinformation about the Islamic community … than any other person”.
Trad sued the station. In July this year Justice Peter McClellan of the NSW Supreme Court delivered a withering judgment that analysed in detail Trad’s role as a spokesman for the Lebanese community and for Hilali. McClellan declared most of Morrison’s criticisms of Trad were substantially true.
The judge accepted Trad was, indeed, a ”disgraceful individual” because he ”encourages others to support attitudes repugnant to the Australian community or encourages violence against women, homosexuals or various ethnic groups and supports child suicide bombers and acts of terror or when given the opportunity fails to condemn these views …”
Trad has appealed. He acknowledges this judgment has done him great damage. He has been all but silent as a public commentator since. ”The judge defamed me worse than the radio station,” he said.
But six months later, with the verdict of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal under his belt, Trad is waiting to hear what apology Jones and the station propose to make. And the women of the respite centre are waiting for their cheque. 2GB would not return calls for this story. I’d wanted to ask if Jones might make a Christmas gesture of it and present the cheque in person.