Me and Mr Jones: What I know about media bullies
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Me and Mr Jones: What I know about media bullies

I identify with Malcolm Turnbull. With Mike Baird. With Kevin Rudd. And (more predictably) with Julia Gillard. I haven’t got tickets on myself. I am not now and will never be a member of any political party. I will never be elected by the Australian people.

But like those four, I was targeted. Vilified. Mocked for my appearance. Been subjected to false and malicious commentary. Like those four, I’ve experienced emails demanding the Powers That Be sack me. Fortunately in my case, no-one listened.

Jenna Price speaking at the International Women's Day march in 2016.

Jenna Price speaking at the International Women's Day march in 2016.

Photo: Supplied

As with Gillard, Turnbull, Rudd and Baird, much of this turned on the commentary of Alan Jones and his cronies which was then amplified in the pages of The Australian and The Daily Telegraph but it was in the days before anyone paid any attention to FoxLocal. Sometimes I wish my kids focused as much on my views as this lot did.

Why did they do that? I was part of something they didn’t like. In 2012, with a bunch of brilliant women and men I didn’t know at the outset, I campaigned to ask advertisers to rethink their support of the Alan Jones program because of his vile comments about Gillard. Those comments weren’t about her policies. They were about her father. Jones said Gillard’s father died of shame. The Destroy The Joint campaign cost Macquarie Radio Network more than 1.5 million bucks. The then chief executive of Macquarie Radio Network begged us to stop.

It truly surprised me that the response of Jones and his allies was to pick on a boring, middle-aged mother of three without any real political power – and it was then I got some insight into what it would be like to actually challenge the trogs. I understood what it was like to feel utterly powerless as the subject of their commentary. But much more importantly, I also know what it felt like to fight back on someone else's behalf and to know exactly how good that feels.

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Alan Jones making a public apology for his remarks about Julia Gillard's father.

Alan Jones making a public apology for his remarks about Julia Gillard's father.

Photo: Not for syndication

I’ve spent the last few days speaking to those in the Liberal and Labor camps about how their leaders felt when they were being attacked. What surprised me (and thrilled me) was that neither Turnbull nor Gillard would listen to Alan Jones in the morning. They relied on staffers doing a quick summary – but only when and if absolutely necessary. The reason these prime ministers weren’t glued? The summary of their thinking from staffers was: “Can I ever reason with these people? They don’t want to be convinced.” They knew it was not possible to bring Alan Jones along to a centrist position. They could never get him onside.

And that matters because Jones and his gang are not onside with you, dear readers. He is not interested in a centrist position but you are. You want something that straddles both sides of politics and you are looking for leaders who do that too. That’s what the polls say. That’s what research on Australian voting patterns says. There are a few of us off to the loony edges but most of us are not. But somehow, Jones’s fake views – fake because they do not represent the majority of Australians – are used to bully Liberal members of parliament. Jones is out of step with majority opinions, says emeritus professor of politics at the University of Sydney Rod Tiffen. You might think, bloody academics, they would say that. But the people I’ve spoken to from the Liberal Party agree. They say that older folks, who still listen to Jones, have the time to ring their local members and ask why they aren’t paying proper respect to their media heroes. But the rest of us don’t have time for that lark. But we must.

As Tiffen puts it: “Vocal opinion is so often out of step with public opinion.”

So far, vocal opinions have led to the downfall of successive prime ministers. It’s a deadly combination of secret influence and public power, of persistence and pettiness. For the Liberals, Jones, Hadley and the rest are in a co-dependent relationship with the NSW Right and whatever tentacles it has. But that once influential faction isn’t extending its networks and even its former scion Alex Hawke took a step to the left. If someone so ambitious – and young – gets the picture, so should the rest of the party. And for god’s sake, stop using the media to undermine your enemies.

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Former media director for Mike Baird, and a past Sun-Herald columnist, Imre Salusinszky, is blunt: “Members of the coalition party rooms have to grow up and stop being manipulated by Jones and Hadley – and must stop using Jones and Hadley, who play off the atrocious lack of discipline within NSW and now manifesting federally. Fundamentally you need coalition MPs to harden the f--- up.

“They need to lock and load behind their leader.”

So when politicians behave badly, what can you do, dear readers?

Here’s my suggestion. If you don’t like what your leaders are doing or the way they behave, tell them. Ring them. Write to them. Email them. We had a rule in Destroy the Joint that we had to be civil in our correspondence.

Write only to your local member – particularly if you are in a swing seat. Explain why you think Alan Jones and his gang are wrong. Remind them that given the option, most Australians would prefer the advice of Lisa Wilkinson to the advice of Alan Jones. She’s got three kids and a husband with terrible dress sense so we identify with her.

You say you want an Australia that’s more likely to reflect your views? An Australia with stable, sensible government.

You have the power to change that. Only you. Talk back.

Jenna Price is a Herald columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.