Alan Jones, 2GB and the Cronulla Riots

Alan Jones is a talkback radio presenter for 2GB who has been accused of implicitly encouraging violent behaviour during the Cronulla riots.

'Talkback' radio is a colloquial Australian term used to describe a radioshow format that involves discussion and debate around topical issues.It usually features interviews with guests and/or has elements of listener participation where they can 'call in' to share their viewpoints.

Talkback radio is much more than the simple expression of the views of listeners as it has the power to mobilize the public. Therefore, the participatory nature of talkback radio also requires qualification. Presenters have considerable power in selecting topics for discussion and foregrounding preferred interpretations. Talk back presenters have assumed tremendous political influence due to their high public profile, the popularity of their programs and the nature of the talkback audience. Talkback radio may facilitate the democratic process through the expression of the views of the 'average' person. This gives rise to popularity of talkback radio stemming from the following reasons: First, it gives a voice to many people who feel they are marginalized and ignored by politicians and the political process; Second, the considerable alienation of politicians from the public; Third, people gain a sense of personal identity and a sense of belonging from regular listening to the programs. (Craig2004: 104)


Beach goers in Cronulla can be split into two major groups: locals, and non locals. As the only beach in Sydney that has close access to a railway line, the beaches at Cronulla are popular with people from all over Sydney. For months tensions started to rise between groups of locals and non-locals. In the lead up to the initial attack and riots, locals claim that a group of non-local men of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern descent were exhibiting aggressive behaviour, and harassing local females (Barclay & West 2006). Tensions flared in early December when two volunteer lifesavers were assaulted by a group of men of Lebanese origin. This event quickly turned into a racial issue and became a conflict about respect for national values, hence the Cronulla Riots. Alan Jones controversially took phone-calls from listeners and read emails on air that were reactions to Western Sydney cases of rape. The convicted rapists were found to be of Middle-Eastern descent. This fact then spurred on hostility from listeners of Jones' "Breakfast " show to make insidious and blatantly racist comments on air (or read out by Jones) such as: "Shoot one, the rest will run", " Middle Eastern men were vicious and cowardly" and spoken by Jones himself (when confronted as to the 'other side of the story'): "Let's not get too carried away here, we don't have Anglo-kids out there raping women in western Sydney(...) I don't hear people complaining about Catholics and Protestants and Anglicans" (Cited from Salusinszky and Marr). He also mentioned some of the statements from the text message, which was considered to urge hatred, contempt and violence against Lebanese and/or other racial groups. "This Sunday, every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla to support Leb and Wog bashing day", "we want to encourage all the Pacific Island people". According to "Canberra Times", such comments are a public act and "warrant a complaint of racial vilification to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board".

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Extracts Related to Cronulla Riots

The event of Cronulla Riots has aroused great sensation and there are various reviews on the issue. Besides Alan Jones' comments, the following links are a few of the extracts by different people so as to help to expose the truth behind the riots. Then, we could see more clearly whether Alan Jones should be blamed or not.

‘Anything to feel proud, be it money or false belief’(

Extract 2
‘Making Sense of a Black Day‘ (

Extract 3
'Let’s take back our beach’(

Clive Hamilton, author of extract one, believes that money, rather than racism, is the cause of the riots. He argued that a person's worth is measured by money in Sydney. Thus those who feel bad about themselves because they cannot play the money game couldn't realise the value of themselves. So they may find ways to protect themselves against the pressure. He thinks that the money value of Sydney is in play. Outsiders of Lebanese Muslims religion are not willing to accept the value in Sydney, which caused the trouble.

A survey in extract two indicates that 55 per cent were critical of those who were targeted by the Cronulla mob and 45 per cent were sympathetic. At the end, the author Michael Gordon said that "I think it shows multiculturalism still has got a way to go in Australia". The extract shows that the ratio for and against the crime is nearly balanced, and the author advocates multicultural diversity.

Extract three also advocates the equality of people regardless of their ethnicity. The above listed extracts analyzed the riots from the perspective of society, culture, and equality. The authors held diverse views. In my opinion, they are much more rational than Alan Jones. Various reasons behind the riots are all on account, so extreme racists should be avoided.

Cronulla Riots & Law

Breakdown of ACMA Commercial Radio Code of Practice

To make an informed decision about the responsibility Alan Jones is perceived to have had, we can take a closer look at the specific legislation concerned. Below is the relevant sections of the Code of Practice Section 1: Programs unsuitable for broadcast
1.3 A licensee must not broadcast a program which:
(a) is likely to incite, encourage or present for its own sake violence or
(e) is likely to incite or perpetuate hatred against or vilify any person or
group on the basis of age, ethnicity, nationality, race, gender,
sexual preference, religion or physical or mental disability.
1.4 Nothing in sub-clauses 1.3(c)(ii), 1.3(d) or 1.3(e) prevents a licensee from
broadcasting a program of the kind or kinds referred to in those sub-
clauses if the program is presented reasonably and in good faith for
academic, artistic (including comedy or satire), religious instruction,
scientific or research purposes or for other purposes in the public interest,
including discussion or debate about any act or matter.
(ACMA Investigation report, pg5)

When considering the code, and determining an outcome and ultimately blame, it is important to break the meaning of the terms to determine what has been breached. In the case of 1.3 the term '(likely to) incite' looks at the broadcasters responsibility to persuade or encourage unlawful or violent behavior. 'Present' put forward, in this case the shock factor that broadcasters can use for the sake or result of violence or brutality. The word 'vilify' means to speak of in an abusive or disparing manner, in other words represented as the other, of little worth. For example Jones states "My suggestion is to invite biker gangs to be present at Cronulla Railway station when these Lebanese thugs arrive"(ACMA, pg21) and "the truth is they are Lebanese gangs[...] Australians both new and old should not have to put up with this scum" (ACMA pg21-23). This promotes and presents a certain bias, based on a matter of ethnicity. Separating what it is to be 'Australian', into a distinct group or set of values. Jones suggests the doing of an act, with specified outcomes of violence and brutality against a certain ethic group, in this case Middle-Eastern and Lebanese, and therefore vilified.

The result of the ACMA investigation report No.1485 determined that on December 7 2005, Alan Jones breached clause 1.3 (a) as the program was 'likely to encourage violence or brutality. On December 7th and 8th Jones breached 1.3 (e), in which the program was 'likely to vilify people of Lebanese background and people of Middle-eastern background on the basis of ethnicity' and most significantly this was not 'presented reasonably [...] in good faith for the purposes specified' as stated in clause 1.4 of the code. (ACMA Investigation report, pg2)

What Jones presented during his broadcast demonstrated a clear lack of self-censorship. This breach is not implying that Jones is solely responsible for the riots and events that occurred, post broadcast. But rather an act of irresponsibility, Jones enflames present tensions of racial vilification, but as the following paragraphs expand upon, he does not hold complete causal responsibility, it requires someone to listen and act. Nonetheless, Jones approaches and acknowledges the content, Eg. text messages or caller responses, with an exposed opinion of a demeaning or singling nature, and therefore, questionably void of accurate academic or artistic integrity. Although the issue can be deemed a matter of public interest, as ACMA reported, on these occasions, Jones did not present his comments 'reasonably or in good faith', void of 'subjective honesty' or a conscientious reporting approach. (ACMA Investigation report, pg8)


Events that lead to the riots and discussed on Jones' talk-back radio show included the attack of two Cronulla lifeguards. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), found that Jones had breached the radio code of practice section 1.3 a) in that what was broadcast on December 5th-9th (2005) was "likely to encourage violence or brutality and to vilify people of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern backgrounds on the basis of ethnicity".

It was in Jones comments that encouraged biker gangs to go to Cronulla and meet the "Lebanese thugs" that also confirmed what happened at the actual riots. Jones' defence for what was said on 2GB was to distance himself from the words of his listeners in that "a broadcaster's use of listener material does not always indicate agreement with that material". This may be true but to what extent does a broadcaster, especially one as well respected as Jones, then influence listeners' opinion by the correspondence he chooses to air and then support or disregard? To what extent is Jones responsible for what he says?

The Federal Government's use of racial unrest in recent elections and latent prejudices undoubtedly contributed to the increased tensions, other factors suggested include nationalist/localist fervour, alcohol and even bad surf, but some critics have now focused on the role of media and technology.
And although new school technology, such as internet forums and message-boards and mobile phone text messages carried the call to arms immediately, it reached a far larger audience through traditional media outlets.

Alan Jones is responsible for what he says over radio and should be aware that what he says may influence his listeners in a way that isn't intended; he constantly repeats that people should not go down to the beach and should not take law matters into their own hands. So what makes listeners take some comments so seriously whilst discarding others? We must understand also, that everyone is responsible for their own actions and not those of others. If we can say Alan Jones was being irresponsible, can we not equally say that those involved in the Cronulla Riots are equally irresponsible for taking Jones' comments to heart and actually partaking in racial violence themselves?

Every coin has two sides, and the two sides of ​the riots should all be responsible. Just as what we have learned in the Theory part, we should balance the relationship between responsibility and freedom. In this case, Alan Jones had the responsibility to address this issue delicately. This means that it would not have been necessary for him to read out the text message that was circulating. A responsible approach would have been to refer to the message and its content but not necessarily read it out word for word.

For more information see:

Speech and Responsibility also comes into play. It could be said that the remarks and attitudes expressed in Alan Jones' radio show are performative utterances and are just as responsible as the actions that were provoked by the communication of opinions, according to J. L. Austin. This argument puts much responsibility on Alan Jones and his program because it suggests that the utterances have incited the violence, and might have avoided so much controversy if they had been deleted from the public's attention. But at the same time, this argument doesn't account for the listeners who then act upon what they have heard. It assumes that the audience isn't wholly responsible, and even perhaps that the audience is a mindless entity that will act upon any performative utterance without considering consequences or its own thoughts on morality.

A Model Public Broadcasting Law

Most countries in the world have its own publicly supported broadcaster. These broadcasting institutions can help the public to protect their rights on a diversity of information and viewpoints. Individuals may complain against broadcasting organizations if they disobey the following codes:(cited from )

(a) accuracy, balance and fairness;
(b) privacy, harassment and subterfuge
(c) protection of children and scheduling
(d) portrayal of sexual conduct and violence, and the use of strong language
(e) treatment of victims and those in grief
(f) portrayal of criminal or anti-social behaviour
(g) advertising
(h) financial issues such as payment for information and conflicts of interest
(i) discrimination; and (j) leaked material and the protection of sources.

As to the Cronulla Riots, the people launching the riots may think they suffer discrimination as in (i), and they deem they have the right to defence. However, the way to deal with the possible discrimination really needs to be reconsidered.

Talkback radio and a bill of rights

The Cronulla Riots should also have provoked further discussion about establishing a proper charter or bill of rights in Australia, particularly with regard to both protecting freedom of speech while also ensuring a fair and decent policing of it. Alan Jones mostly escaped censure for his alleged role in the outburst by pointing to stages in his broadcast where he discouraged vigilante action, even though he condemned a section of society by making racist inferences ("we don't have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in Western Sydney") while fellow broadcaster Steve Price urged a "community show of force" in response to their perceived offensive behaviour. ACMA found that Jones breached section 1.3(a) of the code by repeating a reader's racist remarks and also found that his comments noted here implied that people of Middle Eastern background were responsible for rapes. However, complaints about several other statements were dismissed and ACMA's only actions were to send a letter to Jones's employers and to "move to pursue significantly heightened compliance measures" from the broadcaster.

A comparison can be drawn with the Canadian Bill of Rights as cited by Stanley Fish, as noted in the Theory Book: he recognised an example of an anti-Semitic schoolteacher who inflicted the views of Holocaust deniers on his students that was judged to be in breach of Section 1 of that nation's charter, regarding expression as it guarantees the rights and freedoms ... only to such reasonable limits prescribed by laws as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society, despite Section 2b of the charter asserting that everyone has the following fundamental freedom...freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication. Fish explained that "any right or freedom can be trumped if its exercise is found to be in conflict with the principles that underwrite the society" (1994: 105). The only legal restriction that truly has an effect on broadcasters is defamation, which can only be exercised against an individual - not a group.

Big Day Out 2006 Australian Flag Ban

In the wake of the 2005 Cronulla riots, the organisers of the music festival, Big Day Out announced a day before its Sydney show, that the use of the Australian flag for 'anti-social purposes' was to be discouraged. They argued that because the musical festival was not an Australian Day event, the Australian flag or any other item featuring the national symbol should be left at home and risked being confiscated.

A statement from the Big Day Out website attempted to clear up any misinterpretations by saying 'In recent times, there has been an increased incidence of flags brandished aggressively and this has led to increased tension. Our only intention is discouraging this activity at the Big Day Out is to ensure that our patrons are not subjected to this aggressive behaviour. With all this in mind and the aim to create a happy, peaceful MUSICAL event, organisers would like to request that fans please leave their flags at home.'

The public held varying opinions on the ban, with backlash felt amongst Australian headline acts and young revelers at the musical festival. In addition, former Prime Minister John Howard and former NSW Premier Morris Iemma were also opposed to the ban. Clearly, questions of Australian identity and respect towards the symbolic meaning of Australian flag were raised. Were the actions of the BDO organisers responsible for discouraging the possibility of future ethnic violence and racism, or perhaps were they inciting further nationalistic aggression?

The decay of Journalism to Personality Power

What Alan Jones' case study indicates, a crucial problem in the Australian Public Sphere: journalism. Alan Jones and his show did not specifically incite hate speech and violence, but facilitated and assimilated racist understandings of the Western Sydney events without any critical discussion. The riots that followed in North Cronulla were partly symptomatic of a growing racist underpinning in Sydney's west but more sinisterly, a decline in journalism from critical treatments of politics and politicians, to media personalities with growing public power. These personalities (Alan Jones, Kyle Sandilands, Neil Mitchell - all commercial talkback radio hosts) who not only have their own agendas they seek to put forward, are furthermore encouraged by the current political powers.

Specifically, Alan Jones was said to be '[John] Howard's favourite host' (Ester, 2007: 118) when the Howard government was in power. Alan Jones, appreciative of Howard's support and generosity of his company, provided the medium for Howard to communicate to a large and generally uncritical audience (uncritical as discovered in the Cronulla Riots example, where alternative views were trumped by Jones). Jones' non-journalistic approach to issues in his show provided/provides politicians the avenue to demonstrate their accountability to the public, but in an uncritical environment. This ultimately saves them from any embarrassment of dissent, debate or of simply showing themselves as authoritarian. Alan Jones exemplifies the danger of the decay of journalism to personality power, and of the relatively inaccessible critical journalism.

It is also important to recognise the influence that commercial interests can have in contributing to the decay of journalism. As the talkback hosts mentioned are working for commercial networks, their extreme views and the controversy they help generate result in increased ratings. Increasing the number of listeners to a programme also increases the price of advertising space and product exposure. Advertising sales are needed to fund the operations of radio stations. It is possible that this decay in journalistic values and the use of 'entertainers' and 'personalities', has helped create the controversy that advertisers and broadcasters thrive on. It is likely that controversy is allowed to occur – and is even encouraged by radio stations in order to generate revenue.

The media and its decreasing role as Fourth Estate

There has been evidence in recent times of the Government fundamentally undermining the media in areas of access that delimit its role as the Fourth Estate. These key themes underpinning the Fourth Estate, as defined by Economou and Tanner (2008, p. 8-9) have thus become compromised:

"1. 'The press' are simultaneously part of the liberal democratic state, yet separate from key liberal democratic institutions such as the Executive (government), the Legislature and the administrative arm."
  • Rights of the media have slowly been reduced. The press code of refusing to give sources has been undermined by increased threats of jail sentences.

"2. "Separation of the press from the institutions of governance is crucial to the diffusion of power"
  • Talkback radio and political campaigning have become synonymous, demonstrated by the Alan Jones/John Howard alliance

"3. The reporting of political and social affairs that affect the community should become a dialogue in which the citizenry are able to communicate back to the institutions of governance."
  • John Howard's use of talkback radio as his sole daily media coverage had restricted the press' ability to open an effective dialogue

"4. The press operate on behalf of the citizenry in the power relationship that exists between citizens and the state"
  • The overuse of press securities for areas of government blocks the transparency of governance thus crippling the press' ability to maintain power relationship between citizens and the state.

Multiculturalism Vs. Cronulla

What are the main implications of the Cronulla riots for assessing social cohesion and racism? Some view the events as proof that Australia's immigration and multiculturalism policies are not blending together. This may be seen as ironic, since the program of Australian multiculturalism (Castles et al. 1988: Collins 1991) was dismantled after the election of the Howard government in 1996. Indeed, by the end of 2006 both the Howard government and the Labor opposition had replaced multiculturalism with 'integration' as the key word for expressing the essence of Australia's settlement theories and policy for new immigrant settlers (Jupp, 2007).
It can be viewed that more multiculturalism is necessary, not less. Also, from the several acts of violence, it suggests that anti-racism must be a central plank of Australian multiculturalism.

The Cronulla riots occurred in one of the most global cities and was an expression aiming towards the conflict of ethnicity. In several ways, it can be seen as a rude awakening to the Australian society (especially its cosmopolitan metropolises). It revealed the hidden conflict between such cases as racism and multiculturalism as well as tolerance and prejudice, and is a call to highly multicultural nations of the need to be prudent and careful (Jupp & Nieuwenhuysen, 2007). It is a significant point, complicated every time (Sometimes for an excuse) that, embracing violence and thinking in an evil manner will not put an end to the riots, but, increase the anger and future wars.
This also refers to nurture inter-ethnic relations and not undermine them for opportunistic political purposes. The Cronulla riots are remembered as an event that was rather unpolished in manner of the responsibilities that go with non-discriminatory immigration policy, at a time when increasing globalisation keeps increasing the size and diversity of immigration flows all over the world.

Public interest vs. Public interest

Paul Sheehan's report Media Ownership In Australia outlines the structures of our major media organisations and provides some background to the increasing concentration of ownership across all forms of media in this country. The report raises important questions concerning the nature of our media providers as business organisations, responsible and answerable not only to their reading/viewing/listening public, but also to their shareholders. Beyond concerns of the regulatory bodies such as ACMA we also need to consider the roles of corporate regulators and ownership laws when considering the responsibilities of the Australian media, as it is currently configured.

The public interest behind companies such as John Fairfax Holdings Ltd and News Ltd can play a significant role in determining the "public interest" as it is presented before us in their publications, radio and television programs, etc. What is "newsworthy", or even considered news in the first place, is often of little value to its audience but it's sensational quality as entertainment makes it a winner for the companies presenting it. In fact, as media companies become more concentrated the possibility for them to report/promote their own media product becomes an acceptable and viable item for purchase by the public. "The public", as understood by business concerns, is thus synonymous with "consumer" and so "the public interest" extends to include what sells. The "public interest", thus understood, allows for a wide margin of media coverage that, although may be interesting to some sectors of the public, does not concern and indeed may offend many others. This argument may best be summarised in the saying "sex sells". Whether it be in mortifying reports of rape, coverage from the latest bikini trends in Bondi, or what "Our Kylie" is getting up to with her on-again-off-again, the public - in general - can't look away. Whether or not these stories are interesting, or even relevant, is not usually a media company's main concern. "The public interest", as it concerns business interests, is not always in harmony with "the public interest" as we conceive of it as being synonymous with and upholding of community values.

Following from this idea of public interests, the role of companies and their interests with other partners generally dictates a large part of the content one finds in the media. There have been cases in which journalists have been pushed to write content that falls in line with these interests, while feeling the need to censor their own views in order to keep their jobs. A recent example of this includes a local well-known street press journalist who reviews and promotes events in Sydney. He has recently revealed that a large part of what he writes every week is censored on the grounds that it may upset the magazine's business partners. This shows how the press doesn't only direct its content to the "consumer" as was aformentioned above, but they also carefully consider other stakeholders which in turn fails to provide the reader with honest, transparent information for the sake of these 'behind the scenes' interests.

Works Cited:

ACMA Media Release (10th April, 2007). Retrieved at:
ACMA Investigation Report. (2007). 'Breakfast with Alan Jones. broadcast by 2GB on 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 December 2005'. Accessed on 24.09.09.
Austin, J L (1976) "How To Do Things With Words" pp 6-8
Barclay, R. & West, P. (2006), ‘Racism or patriotism? An eyewitness account of the Cronulla demonstration of 11 December 2005’, People and Place, Vol. 14 No.1, pp. 75-85
Benson, S. & McCabe, K. 2007, 'Big Day Out flag ban sparks fury', The Daily Telegraph, January 22.
Economou, N & Tanner, S. 2008, "Media, Power and Politics in Australia", Pearson, p. 8-9.
Ester, H. 2007, "The Media" in Silencing Dissent, eds C. Hamilton & S. Madison, Allen & Unwin.
Jupp, J. & Nieuwenhuysen, J.P. 2007, The Dynamics of Social Cohesion, Cambridge University Press, New York, p. 66-69.
Marr, D. 2005, 'One-way radio plays by its own rules', The Sydney Morning Herald, December 13.
Salusinszky, I. 2006, 'Talkback Targeted in Riot Report', The Australian, October 26.
Welch, D. 2007, 'Jones rapped for pre-riot 'scum' remarks' The Sydney Morning Herald, April 10
Craig,G(2004)The media, politics and public life, Allen & Unwin