How Jones will profit from the 'backlash'

As the controversy surrounding Alan Jones fails to subside, from an exposure point of view there is an argument that the 'crisis' will actually benefit the fading star and his station.

There is a quote in today's Australian Financial Review that neatly sums up the stormy political and commercial waters into which social media is enticing us.

Describing how companies should respond to attacks by social media campaigners, digital communications consultant Kristen Boschma says firms should ask "what's the risk of not doing what the crowd wants and what is the risk of doing what the crowd wants?"

It's an age-old question. Emperor Commodus, played by Joaquin Pheonix in Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator', weighs up the demands of the Roman mob, and puts on 150 days of gladiatorial games to appease them.

The move prompts Senator Gracchus to comment: "He will conjure magic for them and they will be distracted. He will take away their freedom, and still they will roar ... He will give them death, and they will love him for it."

There is a real buzz in online communities right now – following the apparent success of campaigners in having all advertising removed from Alan Jones' 2GB radio program, every man and his mouse is itching to bravely 'do something' from their computer keyboards.

But what are the real, long-term effects? Media guru Peter Cox yesterday argued that this 'crisis' is actually very good for the fading-star Jones and his station.

Cox told ABC radio yesterday: "This Jones story was probably only worth a few days at the start of last week and they've now spun it out for over a week. It's a great PR coup ... It's naive to think this is not being well orchestrated ... This is being manipulated very professionally by a PR industry who are experts at doing this." (And such comments, it must be noted, are pretty good PR for Peter Cox.)

He added: "For the network, it can pick up an audience here so when the advertisers do come back there will be more listeners. It can charge more for the advertising and it would hope then get to, in the long run, get more money out of this."

The complexities that Cox alludes to – the long-term gain that grows from short-term pain – will likely elude people such as young Nic Lochner, the politics student that helped create the 'Sack Alan Jones' Facebook page that helped convince sponsors to abandon Jones' show.

Lochner, who at 22 has already stood for election to the Randwick Council, is poster-boy, for a day or two at least, for those who think that tapping a few keys and adding the name Captain Supercredulous or similar to an online petition is the way to change the world.

Such a conviction is naive. Social media is surely reducing our attention spans, making it harder to see the long game ahead.

Wiping out Jones' advertising base for a few months looks like a victory to the campaigners – unless, that is, Peter Cox is right and Jones rebounds in six or twelve months' time to be even richer, even more powerful and, of course, even more vitriolic in attacking the causes clbresof Lochners' like-minded supporters.

Bob Katter drove this point home in a statement released later yesterday. While not defending Jones' sickening comment about the PM's recently deceased father, Katter took to task the online campaigners who were unleashing waves of bile of their own against Alan Jones.

Katter said: "... as for vilifying a person or taking away his freedom of expression, it’s easy to see who the truly intolerant people in our society are: it is surely the politically-correct brigade.

"And now even some of the violin-playing hand-wringers are starting to become embarrassed, because it’s Alan Jones today and it will be them tomorrow, once the intolerance starts and the freedom of speech stops.

"What is happening here is un-Australian. The intolerance tiger has been let of the cage and it will maul left and right – and also those of us in the middle.”

It's always good to end with a joke – and that gag about Katter being in the 'middle' is a beauty!

But Katter makes a solid point. Although he does not say so explicitly, we have mechanisms of representation in this country that have been produced by centuries of political thought, trial and error and in some cases by bloody wars.

The institutions of democracy must remain paramount in the face of potentially unrepresentative online lobbying – many older Australians, many undereducated Australians, many of the bluest of blue-collar workers, are simply not hunched over computer keyboards or smartphones all day long.

And yet democratic principles make their votes as valid and Alan Jones' or Nic Lochner's. That is as it should be.

Social media plays an important role in contemporary electioneering, but it's no substitute for our democratic structures. To his credit, Lochner has already stepped out from behind his computer screen to get his hands dirty in local council elections. He won less than 1 per cent of the vote, but no doubt he'll do better next time.

But while we wait for the next local, state or federal election, Captain Supercredulous might want to think about doing the same. Get out, get your hands dirty – start a business, join a political party, stand for election, launch a media product that, unlike an anonymous blog or Twitter feed, can fund professional journalism and is actually worth suing when it gets the story wrong.

It's those acts, not the instant sugar-hit of online victories, that will ultimately shape the new Australia.

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