Heat by Rob O’Neill

It grew legs, then wings

Cash for comment version 2.0 is here. After plugging away at the story for months, teasing extra details out about the relationships between talkback jock Alan Jones, Macquarie Radio and Telstra, ABC’s MediaWatch has finally broken through.

Alan Jones is the ultimate big-noter. John Laws, who spilled a pile of dirt on Jones yesterday, on ABC TV last night agreed disarmingly there was an element of sour grapes in what he had done. But he insisted his differences with Jones were religious:

“I just refuse to treat him like God,” he said.

The story is that Jones was at a party in 2000. He allegedly claimed he had waltzed into Kirribilli House, John Howard’s gaff, and insisted Howard reappoint David Flint as head of the “light-handed” broadcasting regulatory body the ABA (Australian Broadcasting Authority). Now Jones and Howard deny this, in a sort of “I have no recollection” kind of way.

Interestingly Jones has never, as far as I can see, denied he said what Laws says he said at the party. Given the man’s enormous ego it seems likely he may have said what Laws and others present suggest, even if he never spoke to Howard.

What isn’t in doubt is that Jones has power and neither party wants to upset him. Given the demographics of his audience, however, you'd have to say his days as a powerbroker are numbered.

Equally clear is that Flint is an admirer of Jones. He’ll take on Laws, but not Jones.

Sound corrupt? Well it is, in a very Australian old school tie, you-scratch-mine-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of way. There’s a lot of that here mainly caused by the fact Australian government is so BIG. Over here, unlike in NZ, even the regulators have regulators and there are at least three layers of government dealing with any given issue – not to mention the myriad quangos.

Laws was flushed out by a string of leaks, presumably out of the ABA itself. These included the media plan behind the Telstra/Macquarie deal and the contract itself. Damning stuff.

Now there are plenty around who hate Marr and MediaWatch – including a lot of journalists. He is unforgiving about slackness, plagiarism and a host of other modern media failures. But this is his story and he has forced all the other media outlets to fall in behind and start digging after most assumed the issue was dead.

The scrum is on.

Australian radio is in a sorry state. Jones is benefiting albeit indirectly from the Telstra deal and the deal was based on leveraging his opinion, not just the company positioning itself as sponsor of his show. Nobody comes out of this looking good – except David Marr whose persistence and clear enunciation of the issues can only be admired.

Margo Kingston gives her views here.

Now, back to my stinky socks. The Case of the Slippered Darner just got even more mysterious. My old Mum emphatically denies she secretly darned my socks …