When climate change deniers took to the streets in March against the federal government’s proposed carbon price, some of this country’s most notorious shock jocks were leading the way.
Chris Smith, talkback host on Sydney commercial radio show 2GB, was a major promoter of the March 23 rally outside Parliament House in Canberra. The rally was littered with signs featuring misogynist slogans and bizarre rebuttals of the existence of climate change.
Everyone you’d expect at a conservative reunion was there, from opposition leader Tony Abbott to former One Nation leader Pauline Hanson.
Smith pushed hard to build a similar rally in Sydney on April 2. He, along with fellow 2GB shock jock Alan Jones, has been attempting to build opposition not only to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s climate price, but to the very idea that carbon pollution is causing climate change.
The March 21 edition of ABC's Media Watch revealed just how off the planet the shock jocks are when it comes to climate change and just how far they go to ignore scientific evidence.
On his 2UE breakfast show on February 14, Jason Morrison summed up a message that is incessantly repeated by his fellow talk-back radio hacks: “Now I have no doubt that the climate is a changing. Because I think it always changes. Just about every day it’s different. Over time it changes but as new evidence pops up it starts to cast further doubt over whether indeed it is us making that change happen.”
On March 15, Alan Jones made this ludicrous claim: “Nature produces nearly all of the carbon dioxide in the air. Human beings produce point 001 percent of the carbon dioxide in the air.” Media Watch pointed out that Jones's figure was just a little off the mark — it's actually 30,000 times more than 0.001%!
In response to Media Watch’s enquiries, Professor Steven Sherwood from the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales explained: “There is no question that humans have produced all of the extra CO2 that has appeared in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution, or about 28% of the current total (plus a similar amount that has gone into the oceans, plants and soils).
“The emission of CO2 by human activities is at least 100 times larger than the net, long-term natural source which is from volcanoes.”
But Gary Hardgrave, on his March 9 show on Brisbane’s 4BC, made clear the shock jock position on the likes of Sherwood, claiming “all this global warming climate change stuff” is “just a PR stunt by vested interests wanting more research dollars”.
Media Watch found an extreme bias on commercial talk-back radio towards interviewing climate sceptics whose “scientific research” has been widely discredited by their peers. The same shows have ignored real climate scientists.
Media Watch also revealed that out of all the highest rating commercial radio stations in Australia's major cities, only two stations do not feature any “out-and-out climate-change sceptic” among their weekday hosts.
The shock jocks don’t limit their misinformation and fear mongering to climate change. They can be heard mouthing off on any controversial issue, particular if there are marginalised or victimised people involved who make easy targets for whipping up prejudice.
Following the tragic deaths of more than 30 shipwrecked asylum seekers on Christmas Island in December, there was a shock jock frenzy over the federal government funding the victims' burials and flying family members to attend funerals in Sydney.
Michael Smith, Sydney station 2UE’s afternoon host, was outraged: “That is just amazing! That people who are not residents of this country, people who are trying to make their way to this country who came to grief at Christmas Island, somehow now we’ve got to pay to fly their remains here to Sydney and then fly their families here to Sydney.”
David Oldfield, another resident racist on 2UE, who is mostly known for his role in helping to found Hanson's One Nation, rammed home the “us and them” message: “They seem to have a grip on taxpayer’s money that you and I could never have, and it’s wrong, isn’t it? Isn’t it wrong?”
Chris Smith stooped to an abhorrent low with a quiz on his program offering a DVD, book and movie tickets as prizes for the listener who could answer the question: “How many asylum seekers killed in the December tragedy will be buried in Sydney this week?”
In recent weeks, there’s been more refugee bashing from the shock jocks after detainees in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre held protests.
Jason Morrison, on his April 22 breakfast show on 2UE, railed against the alleged “special treatment” these “illegals” who had “misbehaved” received. Several times he told his listeners that “you’re paying for this”.
The following day on the same station, George Moore demanded to know whether the Villawood protests were “arranged by those people on the outside with mobile phones” and “should they be investigated for conspiracy?”
But amid the sensationalism, vilification and scaremongering, there was no mention of the suffering endured by those inside Villawood: neither the war, persecution and poverty they had fled nor the years of uncertainty and misery spent in the hell holes we call immigration detention centres.
There was certainly no mention of the contribution Australian foreign policy makes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to creating refugees in the first place.
The shock jocks like to pose as if they simply reflect popular opinion. But their real role is far more insidious. They whip up fear, prevent open and honest debate, and in some cases even provoke violence.
The latter was demonstrated all too clearly in December 2005 when Alan Jones stirred listeners into a racist frenzy and helped to ignite the Cronulla riots.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority ruled in 2007 that Jones, who even publicised a text message that was circulating at the time calling on people to go to Cronulla beach to support “Leb and wog bashing day”, had incited racist violence during his broadcasts.
Callers to the talk-back programs, carefully vetted to ensure they back up the rabidly conservative agenda of the hosts, can reinforce the notion that shock jocks speak on behalf of “the people”.
But University of Canberra lecturer Jason Wilson pointed out on ABC’s The Drum on February 1 that the impact of shock jocks on Australian politics is much greater than the size of their narrow audiences.
Nielsen’s January 30-March 19 radio survey backs this up. For example, 2GB has a far greater share of Sydney’s morning radio listeners than any other station, with 15.6%. But this equates to an average of 89,000 listeners, out of a potential audience of more than 4 million. The majority are older listeners, and a tiny number are under the age of 25.
The corporate monopoly of media ownership in Australia and the cross ownership of radio stations, TV and newspapers means that the shock jocks’ voices tend to be heard way beyond their own broadcasts, and often get reported elsewhere as important contributions to public debate.
This is why even though most of us choose not to listen to their reactionary rantings, we still seem to hear about the latest barrow the shock jocks are pushing.
While they like to promote themselves as “good Aussie blokes” standing up for the average Aussie battler, the shock jocks don’t battle financially themselves.
Jones is a multi-millionaire, who, along with fellow talkback host John Laws, was investigated in the late ‘90s “cash for comment” scandal after receiving money for favourably discussing certain large corporations during radio broadcasts.
And as for being good blokes, I doubt most of us would like to invite Chris Smith over for dinner. He was briefly suspended from his position after groping several women at a 2GB Christmas party in 2009.
However Labor and the Coalition’s pro-big business consensus creates fertile ground for shock jock audiences.
The legitimate concerns of working people about the rising cost of living and increased economic hardship can be channelled into racist scapegoating of refugees and head-in-the-sand denial of the need for urgent climate action, especially in the absence of an alternative response.
Alternative voices don’t have the same access to the mass media, but as the climate action counter-rallies in March and April showed, if the progressive forces mobilise on the streets they can far outweigh the right-wing populist crowd egged on by the shock jocks.
By strengthening the movement for a just and humane refugee policy, and the campaign to demand an urgent shift away from fossil fuels and a huge investment in the transition to renewable energy, the influence of the shock jocks can be marginalised.