Over the last month, advertisers have been exiting 2GB’s Alan Jones Breakfast Show in droves. By Wednesday afternoon, close to 120 brands had actively sought to distance themselves from the radio shock jock, who’s notorious for having made divisive comments throughout his career.
The mass exodus was sparked by remarks made by Jones on 15 August regarding NZ prime minister Jacinda Ardern. The radio host suggested that Australian PM Scott Morrison should shove a sock down the throat of his NZ counterpart over statements she made about climate change.
The hateful comments made by Jones aren’t the first he’s stated on air that incite violence towards a woman. However, the fallout that’s followed has proven the most devastating backlash to such comments for both Jones and his employer Macquarie Media.
Although, this boycotting of one of Australia’s most well-known radio personalities didn’t happen on its own. An online activist group known as the Mad Fucking Witches (MFW) has orchestrated the campaign. It’s been contacting advertisers directly and monitoring those still on air.
A violent backdrop
Jennie Hill founded the Mad Fucking Witches back in 2016. And today, its Facebook page has over 56,000 followers. The online group has a focus on exposing all forms of bigotry in this country, including “sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism”.
In the case of Alan Jones, what MFW asserts is the radio shock jock’s throwaway lines carry real consequences, as there’s a connection between on air comments depicting violence towards women, and perpetrating such violence in the community.
So far this year, 48 women have been violently killed across the country, according to the Red Heart campaign. Indeed, the Australian suburbs are rife with incidents of violence committed against women, mainly by their current or former partners.
A few years back, the focus on this gender-based violence wasn’t so keen, and nor was the acknowledgement that casual comments like Jones’ can have further ramifications. But, as the advertisers jump ship from the Alan Jones show, it’s clear that societal attitudes have shifted.
Maintaining the rage
Last Friday, Macquarie Media chairman Russell Tate wrote to advertisers announcing that the broadcaster is undertaking a content review of not only Alan Jones’ radio program, but of all the shows it airs on 2GB and 4BC.
However, despite the overwhelming response of advertisers to the boycott and the announcement of the content review, MFW has pledged to keep on monitoring the station in a bid to make sure it and the advertisers don’t simply return to business as usual, as has happened in the past.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Mad Fucking Witches founder Jennie Hill about the impact the boycott campaign is having, the bigotry that pervades Australian society and how MFW intends to bring about a “permanent culture change” at one of Australia’s most prominent radio stations.
Firstly, Alan Jones suggested Morrison shove a sock down Ardern’s throat. Mad Fucking Witches has been campaigning to have advertisers boycott Jones’ program since then. Ms Hill, how many advertisers have pulled out so far?
We just put up 118.
And what sort of advertisers have been pulling out?
There are some small ones. But, most of them are quite big corporations, like Coles and the Commonwealth Bank. There are half a dozen car manufacturers, including Maserati.
So, what would you say the impact of the boycott has been?
The impact must be significant. We’re still tracking the ads. We’ve got people listening to the ads every morning.
The remaining ones are mostly fairly small companies. It’s also been reported that the number of ads on the show has dropped significantly. There must be quite an enormous impact.
Now, a few advertisers have moved advertisements to other shows within the 2GB network. But, about a third of the companies have pulled out of 2GB altogether.
We see this as companies starting to take their civil responsibilities more seriously, in terms of responding to people’s concerns about violence against women.
Gerry Harvey chairman of Harvey Norman recently appeared on Alan Jones’ Sky News program and called the Mad Fucking Witches “nobodies”.
Harvey seemed to suggest MFW doesn’t have much of a following and he asked where it sits in this argument. How would you respond to Harvey?
That stirred up the whole debate again, much more than it already was, because the people following Mad Witches aren’t rabble-rousers, which is another term they’ve been called. People would be surprised at who the Mad Witches are.
The name isn’t something that we just pulled out of the air to be sweary or ridiculous. It actually comes from a text message that Peter Dutton sent to a journalist. It’s obviously a very sexist thing to say. And we reclaimed that, as a way of taking back power over being called those sorts of names.
A very large percentage of the Mad Witches are highly educated. They have above average incomes. They’re normal Australians. There are lots of lawyers and accountants. And there are also people with disabilities and people on various benefits. They’re a cross section of ordinary Australians.
So, being called nobodies really upset people, because it’s just not true, regardless of any other criticism in his statement.
This is not the first time Alan Jones has made comments that incite violence towards women.
Of course, this behaviour is detrimental on its own. But, how would you describe the broader social context in this country that might compound the harms that comments like Jones’ could result in?
We’ve got 48 women this year in Australia who’ve been killed violently. The research is that police are called to a domestic violence incident every two minutes in this country. People are much more aware of this, even than they were just a few years ago. And they’ve just had enough.
Rosie Batty was a big part in changing the conversation, with the enormous work she did in the area. And her work, combined with other feminists’ work, means that people now understand that there’s a direct link between talking about violence and actual violence.
People see Alan Jones as inciting violence in the way that he called on Jacinda Ardern to be backhanded.
And people are pointing to research that shows a direct link between inciting violence against women and some men – and nobody is saying all men or a majority – but some who commit violence against women.
With so many women being injured and killed, we know that there are men out there who are doing it. And what Alan Jones’ words do is let some men feel that what they are doing to women is OK. Jones isn’t up with the times. People are saying that we are not having that anymore.
I’ve also heard a lot of information from people recently about how this kind of speech isn’t going on elsewhere. It’s just in Australia and the United States. It’s not tolerated anywhere else in the world anymore.
On Friday, Macquarie Media chairman Russell Tate wrote to advertisers promising a “full content review” of not only the Alan Jones program, but all 2GB shows.
You asked your supporters over the weekend what sort of changes the company could make to set things right.
What sort of responses did you get? And in your opinion, what sort of changes could the broadcaster make to better the situation?
What I discovered was that most people who responded to that question were a lot angrier and more unforgiving than potentially I might have been. Most people said that they wouldn’t accept anything less than Alan Jones being sacked.
My personal opinion is probably more generous than that. I would hope to see changes within the broadcaster, but we would have to see some pretty radical changes.
What witches understand is that there’s this thing called the cycle of abuse, where someone says something violent – as Alan Jones has done many times over the years – and then they apologise, and people accept the apology and then they do it again.
Once that happens a few times, then people start to not accept the apology anymore, because they know it doesn’t mean anything.
I saw a list of at least eight or ten times where Alan Jones has said verbally violent things about women, and about people of other racial backgrounds, and he’s apologised, but then he’s done it again.
That’s why most witches are very unwilling to accept the apology this time.
Part of the MFW mission is to highlight bigotry in this country. What sort of prejudice would you say exists in Australia today? And what are the consequences of it?
Anecdotally, it seems like Australia is a place that still permits bigoted speech about women, people of other races, and, particularly during the plebiscite that we had, about LGBTIQ people.
My understanding is that particularly in Europe and those sorts of places that sort of talk is not tolerated anymore.
I’m not sure why it is still tolerated here. My guess would be that Australia seems to model itself on the United States – instead of Europe – and with the rise of Donald Trump, there’s a lot of that horrible speech in America as well.
I certainly think Australia has a long way to go in fixing these issues. And I’d like to think that what we are doing is helping towards that.
And lastly, over 100 advertises have boycotted Jones, his bosses have said he’ll lose his job if he repeats this sort of behaviour and Macquarie Media is undertaking a full content review of its programs.
Ms Hill, is your work here done? And what’s next for the Mad Fucking Witches?
We’d like to see what that content review is going to involve. The letter that Russel Tate sent was to the advertisers, not to the majority of Australians.
We thought that was a bit strange in itself: that he’s appealing to advertisers to come back, rather than talking to the people who are quite genuinely boycotting the advertisers.
We’d like to see exactly what that review is going to entail. Who’s going to administer it. Are they investigating themselves? And if so, that’s quite strange. Who will they be talking with to ensure they are doing the right things?
There’s an enormous amount of information that hasn’t come out yet. So, we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing.
One of the things that came out early on is that people said we’d only do this for a while, then we’d stop and the advertisers would go back. And we are quite committed to not taking our foot off the gas this time. We are going to keep listening for many months.
And we will stop when we are satisfied that there has been a permanent culture change at 2GB that ensures that this won’t happen again.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.