Ad-free: radio personality Alan Jones.
ALAN Jones is joining the ABC - in offering a radio show entirely free of advertising.
Jones' employer, the Macquarie Radio Network, has taken the unprecedented step of indefinitely suspending all advertising on his 2GB breakfast show after a week of sustained pressure following his comments about the death of Julia Gillard's father.
The show lost more than 70 sponsors and advertisers and the suspension will likely cost the network more than $80,000 a day in lost revenue. MRN executive chairman Russell Tate said money would not determine how long Jones' show would be without advertising.
''The decision obviously comes at a very significant short-term cost to MRN,'' Mr Tate said. '' The breaking point will not be determined by financial costs.''
The move comes in response to a sustained campaign via social media and email targeting businesses that support the Jones program, prompted by outrage over Jones' comment to a Young Liberals function last month that the Prime Minister's father had ''died of shame'' over her ''lies''.
That outrage was only exacerbated by a fudged apology Jones offered last Sunday, in which he spent the majority of a 40-plus minute news conference berating Ms Gillard and her government.
Last Monday, a trickle of businesses announced they were withdrawing their advertising from 2GB. By the middle of last week it was a flood, leaving Jones with only with a loyal core of local advertisers.
Yesterday's suspension of advertising will likely quarantine the rest of 2GB's line-up from the effects of the social media campaign. Many ads are booked across the network as a whole, so the only way to guarantee they won't appear on the Jones show is to withdraw from the network entirely.
Mr Tate said the station's clients had been inundated with correspondence from protesters. ''One client received 6000 emails in a day,'' he said. ''It's causing a significant interruption in our clients' businesses, so we've called time-out.''
Mr Tate said the company had not discussed removing Jones, who is a part-owner of the station via a complicated options structure.
One-third of Jones' options - 1.3 million, both issued and redeemable at no cost to him - are redeemable at the end of this month, dependent on his show having increased revenue by 5 per cent year-on-year. The final tranche is due next year on the same proviso - a target that may now be beyond Jones.
Last week, branding experts told Fairfax it was likely that many advertisers would return within a month or so of pulling their ads.
It was even likely, said some, that MRN would suffer no lasting financial damage, as many major advertisers were on 12-month contracts that would be still be fulfilled once the scandal had died down.
However, the organisers of the anti-Jones campaign, which has attracted more than 108,000 supporters on change.org and spawned a host of Facebook pages and twitter streams - have vowed to continue their fight.
The comments by Mr Tate were ''a distraction'', campaign founder Nic Lochner said.
''They don't address the two issues at play here - that Alan Jones is a serial offender when it comes to hate speech, and that the response from the Australian public has been a genuine groundswell of disgust to this appalling kind of behaviour.
''Mr Tate has said nothing that indicates Macquarie is going to take any action to address the pattern of hate and vitriol that has been a feature of Alan Jones' program.''
MRN has taken the threat of an ongoing campaign seriously enough to host on its website a questionnaire asking regular listeners: ''During the last week, has your opinion of 2GB changed?'' and ''During the last week, has your attitude towards companies that advertise on The Alan Jones Breakfast Show changed?''
The response, Mr Tate claimed in a lengthy statement issued yesterday, was overwhelmingly in the negative.
Though many listeners had shared the outrage over Jones' initial comments, Mr Tate claimed: "The great majority acknowledge his apology and have not significantly changed their attitude.''
Nor, he added, did they appear to think any less of his advertisers.
''Since we now know these things to be fact, we have to conclude that the avalanche of telephone, email and Facebook demands to our advertisers to 'boycott' the Alan Jones Breakfast Show, and the threats to destroy their businesses if they don't comply, are coming almost entirely from people who do not listen to Alan Jones or 2GB at all - probably never have done and never will,'' he continued.
Attempting to frame the issue as a free-speech matter, Mr Tate accused campaigners of ''21st century censorship, via cyber-bullying''.
The revenue lost due to the suspension of advertising on the Jones show was ''an insignificant price to pay for our audience to be able to listen to what they choose to listen to, and for Australian companies to advertise where they choose to advertise,'' Mr Tate said.
Campaigners saw it differently. ''This is not about cyber-bullying. It is about customers exercising their right to call companies to account about the kind of behaviour they want to see in Australian society,'' Mr Lochner said.
''This campaign has been about calling for civility and decency in public debate.''
With JONATHAN SWAN