Mediaweek Roundup: Alan Jones, News Corp, Nova, NRL & Nine + more

• Tracy Grimshaw and Home and Away

Departure of Alan Jones

Alan Jones showed how to make money from political opinion before Fox

After Sydney radio broadcaster and conservative warrior Alan Jones revealed on Tuesday morning that he was retiring from radio, fans, powerful and obscure, began calling the 2GB switchboard to express respect, love and disappointment, reports The AFR’s Aaron Patrick.

Scott Morrison praised Jones’ patriotism. Former prime minister Tony Abbott, competitor John Laws and NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian wished him good luck.

Anthony Albanese gave up some love from the left.

“You have taken on powerful interests,” the Labor leader told Jones.

“On infrastructure and inland rail I just hope you keep an interest there because you have been prepared to take on vested interests and stand up for your views. You have been prepared to engage.”

Albanese’s praise illustrated two crucial facts that help explain why Jones is regarded as the most powerful broadcaster in the nation: his populist conservatism may not be ideologically consistent, but he is so influential that no serious politician can ignore it, either Liberal or Labor.

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With a knock on his door, radio king Alan Jones ends a record reign

Alan Jones was still the most dominant voice in Australian broadcasting – and was barely six months into an $8m, two-year contract – when he began contemplating calling time on his 35-year career in radio, report The Australian’s Leo Shanahan and Steve Jackson.

The undisputed king of the airwaves suspected that his card had been marked by his new bosses. He knew his days were numbered.

In January, Nine Radio chief Tom Malone met with 2GB talent following the full takeover of the former Macquarie Network.

The Australian understands that at that time Jones indicated to Malone that he might want to leave the station earlier than the June 2021 expiry date of his most recent, most lucrative contract.

Increasingly concerned about his health and exhausted by the infighting at 2GB that had almost seen him driven out in 2019, Jones was ready to walk.

Jones maintains he had no role in choosing Fordham as his replacement but the decision pleased him, particularly as he is a fan (Fordham’s brother is also his agent and the family are old friends) and had the added benefit of preventing Ray Hadley inheriting his spot.

The alarm clock sounded on his future on Friday, May 1, when Malone knocked on Jones’s door at his Southern Highlands property.

Time was up: Jones’s top-rating breakfast show, unbeaten in a record 226 surveys, was no longer bringing in enough revenue in the wake of a series of controversies.

Nine was prepared to pay out more than $4m to the end of Jones’s contract in the middle of 2021. The bosses wanted Jones to go with dignity but they did need him to go.

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‘He’s utterly ruthless’: inside the life of broadcaster Alan Jones

What’s it really like to be eaten for breakfast by radio’s ‘500-pound gorilla’? The Weekend Australian‘s Greg Bearup sat down with Alan Jones in late 2017 … and it didn’t take long for him to find out:

He’s intimidating. I feel like a mediocre medium-paced bowler defending a modest total; a long, sorry afternoon in the sun is looming. I know Jones was born into a family of poor dairy farmers at Acland, northwest of Toowoomba, so I lob up an easy question about his childhood, hoping to find my line and length. He belts it out of the park. “I don’t want to go into any of that,” he says crossly between slurps. “Mate, everything about that has been written a thousand times before.” I trudge back to my mark.

What you hear on radio and see on television is what you get in person – the Alan Jones Show is only ever off-air when he’s asleep. There’s no ­neutral, no reverse – he’s lived life with the pedal to the metal. Alan Jones has only one gear.

Jones always pads away queries about his age but company records reckon he’ll soon be 77. He’s in fair nick for his age, especially for someone who probably should be dead. In the past decade he’s had a brain tumour, melanoma and prostate ­cancer. And then, in June, he was knock, knock, knockin’… “Technically I died,” he says, picking up a chop and working his way along the bone. “Heart stopped and all that stuff.”

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Nine secures 12 month non-compete deal for departing breakfast host

In an interview with The Australian’s Nick Tabakoff yesterday from his home in the NSW Southern Highlands, after a day of high drama, Jones, 79, says a threat by his doctor that he could drop dead “walking down the street” that was the final straw in prompting the man who could make or break Prime Ministers, Premiers and CEOs to walk away from radio.

But Jones’s doctors weren’t the only ones in conversations with the 2GB breakfast king. It was a dialogue with Nine bosses in recent times that ultimately facilitated Tuesday’s bombshell departure by Jones, 13 months ahead of the expiry of his contract.

The departing breakfast king will face no financial penalty from 2GB’s owner Nine for quitting his $4 million a year, two-year contract early under the terms of a deal hammered out between the two parties.

It is understood he now faces only one key caveat: that he will be locked down by Nine until the end of June next year from joining any radio venture that competes in any way with 2GB, or any other station in the Nine radio network around Australia.

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The hashtag that shook the foundations of Alan Jones’ power

Jenna Price in The Sydney Morning Herald:

In 2012, I dreamt of the day Alan Jones would retire or be sacked. Jones had attacked the then prime minister Julia Gillard for months. He said women leaders were destroying the joint. He name-checked Clover Moore and Christine Nixon as other destroyers.

Those first comments were laughable and made the perfect meme. As social commentator Jane Caro tweeted at the time, “Got time on my hands tonight so thought I’d spend it coming up with new ways of ‘destroying the joint’ being a woman & all. Ideas welcome.” A few moments later, Melbourne plastic surgeon Jill Tomlinson started the #destroythejoint hashtag. While I was busily enlisting people for an old-fashioned protest outside his home, Sally McManus, a union prodigy and now ACTU secretary, started a Facebook page, called it Destroy the Joint, and invited people to connect to fight sexism and misogyny. Within two hours, the page had a couple of hundred likes.

The groundwork for a phenomenon whose power no one – least of all Jones – would realise was laid.

A few weeks later at a Young Liberals function, Jones made the claim that Gillard’s father had died of shame. Destroy the Joint made its first call to action. On September 29, 2012, McManus with friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers, turned Destroy the Joint from ephemeral social media messaging into a movement with real results.

Two weeks later, there was zero advertising on his show. Jones recovered, more or less, but that campaign weakened his power.

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Loved, loathed and feared, no one could ignore the Jones phenomenon

No one could brow-beat a politician on air, or off, quite like Alan Jones, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Deborah Jones.

“Deep down I reckon a lot of politicians hated him, or regarded him as a massive inconvenience,” one well-placed industry insider said this week. “But they knew they had to play ball, and the very few that didn’t usually didn’t last long.”

It was his listeners for whom Jones reserved unwavering courtesy – the hundreds of thousands of rusted-on supporters who tuned into his weekday breakfast broadcasts decade after decade to deliver him a near unbeaten record as king of breakfast talkback.

Jones relished his image as the champion of the underdog and the battler, going into war against progressive elites. “It tickled his fancy, that part of the role, coming as he did from a conservative background,” says Sky News stablemate and former Labor heavyweight, Graham Richardson.

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An enraged Alan Jones gave me a first-hand insight into his power

He is a man best known for his hatreds, reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Jacqueline.

It doesn’t matter if you are an Alan Jones listener or not, you can still rattle off a list of the things the famous broadcaster loathes.

Moderate dislike is not his thing. In no particular order, Jones, who retired today, has spent his 35 years on air hating emissions reduction, the climate warming hoax, cycleways, the Greens, Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore, former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty, environmental science, Malcolm Turnbull, Julia Gillard, the temerity of anyone who thought it inappropriate to advertise a horse race on the Opera House sails, Opera House CEO Louise Herron, former Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle, Greta Thunberg, Jacinda Ardern and coal seam gas.

You will notice the list is over-burdened with women – overall he seemed to have little use for them, and the powerful ones he especially loathed.

In 2011, I was working in the Canberra press gallery when the campaign to “axe the tax” – the Gillard government’s carbon price – was picking up steam.

Jones travelled to Canberra to address the “Convoy of No Confidence” – a ragtag collection of truckers who had driven to Canberra to protest against the “carbon tax”.

The atmosphere was hostile. After observing for a while, I walked over to Jones, who was at the back of the stage listening as someone else addressed the crowd, and asked him if he had been paid to emcee the rally.

He was instantly enraged. He called me a “grub” as he leaned over me, face reddening, asking how I could look myself in the mirror. Soon he reclaimed the microphone and used it to shout my name, and that of my press gallery colleague, David Lipson, to the crowd. The crowd started yelling and booing at us, and demanded we come on stage to defend ourselves.

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Race, women, climate: the recurring themes of Alan Jones’s career

When Alan Jones suggested Scott Morrison should shove a sock down the throat of the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, last year it was the final straw for many in a 35-year radio career that has seen the divisive Sydney personality survive scandal time and time again, reports Guardian Australia’s Amanda Meade.

Jones’s radio ratings were consistently so high and his political connections so impeccable he hung on to his career despite uttering numerous racial slurs, making misogynist comments about female leaders, raising the ire of broadcasting authorities and attracting eye-watering defamation payouts and legal fees.

But nine months after he apologised to Ardern for “not choosing his words carefully”, the anger about his attacks on her and other high-profile women – including the former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and the Opera House chief, Louise Herron – failed to die.

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Business of Media

News Corp calls halt on ACM community mastheads deal

News Corp Australia will not proceed with a sale of its portfolio of more than one hundred regional and community newspapers to Antony Catalano’s Australian Community Media after the two companies could not agree on terms for a deal, reports The Australian’s Leo Shanahan.

In a note to staff on Tuesday morning News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said the talks with ACM had not resulted in a transaction, with the company now focused on “alternative structures” to focus the company on digital growth.

“In recent weeks we have been undertaking a review of our Australian portfolio and structures and have had discussions with the most logical acquirer of our regional and community titles, Miller said.

“Those discussions have not resulted in a transaction and we are now considering alternative structures to best focus News Corp Australia on maximising digital and growth opportunities.”

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News Corp regional, community papers face digital-only future

The print editions of a swath of News Corp Australia’s regional and community publications are likely to become digital-only, report The AFR’s Max Mason and Sarah Thompson.

Cohorts of high-value print mastheads would remain as part of a restructure that will expand a model the media giant began testing in 2018 across 16 areas where it did not have newspapers.

News Corp Australia executives have long believed in the value of hyper-local journalism. It continues to rate highly, and the company has been looking at ways to make its community and regional portfolio a more sustainable business. The transformation has become urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has seen advertising markets across all media drop dramatically.

News Corp Australasia chairman Michael Miller warned that community mastheads needed to be a “viable business” and said some of the publications were “more community service than commercial business”, which was not sustainable.

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News Brands

‘A firm uppercut’: Travel industry boss lashes out at ACA host

The head of Australia’s peak body for travel agents has told an online seminar that A Current Affair host Tracy Grimshaw “needs to be given a firm uppercut or a slap across the face” over the program’s reporting of a travel industry refund scandal, reports Nine publishing’s David Estcourt.

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Jayson Westbury made the comments while addressing the group’s stakeholders last Friday about how negative publicity about the industry was being addressed.

“I won’t ever be watching it (Channel 9’s ACA) again. I think that Tracy Grimshaw needs to be given a firm uppercut or a slap across the face, and I mean that virtually, of course, I wouldn’t want to invoke (sic) any violence on anyone.”

“But, I mean, some of the behaviour and some of the language that’s being used on that program is just outrageous,” he said.

A recording of the seminar, published on YouTube and on the AFTA website, was later removed.

Westbury declined to comment when contacted by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Radio

Nova sacking: Former radio boss Jay Walkerden sues for $216,000

Sacked radio boss Jay Walkerden’s generous salary has been revealed after he sued his former employer alleging they breached his employment contract by failing to pay him $216,316, reports The Courier-Mail’s Vanda Carson.

In his claim filed in the District Court in Brisbane, Walkerden alleges top-rating Nova 106.9 Pty Ltd owes him the cash because they didn’t give him six months notice when they sacked him “with immediate effect” on March 16.

Walkerden claims he was earning $336,033 a year and had worked for the radio station for eight years and 28 weeks when he was let go, court documents state.

He was also entitled to annual bonuses of up to $32,000 if the station reached number one in the GfK Media Research surveys, the claim states.

The station was number one in Brisbane in the April 16 GfK survey.

Walkerden left Nova Entertainment after an internal investigation following an alleged confrontation involving a male announcer on 106.9’s Ash, Kip, Luttsy & Susie breakfast show.

Walkerden – the station’s Brisbane general manager and program director, and Nova’s head of podcasting – was on a Californian trip with the crew in late February when the alleged incident occurred.

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Television

Home and Away plans to resume filming after COVID-19 break

Home and Away will soon resume production after an almost two-month break because of ­coronavirus, reports News Corp’s Jonathon Moran.

Like productions around the world, stars of the popular Channel 7 TV soap have been on a forced break to reduce the risk of spreading the COVID-19 illness.

Actors will be back to work in a fortnight, but storylines will be reworked to reduce close contact between actors and other precautions will also be taken.

“A range of measures will be in place to minimise risk for cast and crew, to be overseen by dedicated safety officers,” a Seven spokeswoman said.

“The measures include temperature checks on arrival, increased hygiene practices and rigorous cleaning schedules.

“Scripts will also be reworked to reduce close contact, in constant consultation with the cast and crew to ensure the health and safety of all.”

Production will resume on May 25 at Seven’s Sydney studios in Eveleigh, with location shoots at Palm Beach understood to be on hold for now.

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Sports Media

Nine, NRL on brink of deal to seal $1.7 billion broadcast bonanza

Nine Entertainment Co is close to agreeing to a revised three-year deal with the NRL as the code prepares to announce a broadcast contract worth up to $1.9 billion. Reports The Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Chammas.

After weeks of negotiations, during which Nine threatened to walk away from the sport, the free-to-air network is now on the verge of recommitting to the NRL for the rest of the current broadcast cycle, which ends in 2022.

A series of meetings on Tuesday afternoon culminated in Nine earning a discount from the NRL of around $50-$70 million over the next three years. An extension remains unlikely but not impossible before the NRL announces the deal. It comes as Foxtel, which is desperate to extend its tenure as the game’s pay-TV provider, moves towards finalising a deal worth about $200m a year, potentially until 2027.

Sources with knowledge of the negotiations say Nine’s revised deal could represent a saving of up to 20 per cent on what it was originally due to pay in the final three years of the deal. Based on that discount, Nine will pay about $85-$90m in 2020, a discount of up to $30m. It will pay in the vicinity of $90-$100m in the final two years.

Foxtel is also closing in on finalising a deal with the sport that is worth up to $1.6b should they commit until 2027. Fox Sports was due to contribute about $190m this year, increasing by $10m in each of the next two years.

Sources close to the negotiation say Fox will now pay a significantly reduced fee in 2020 and average payments of about $200m a season for up to the next seven years.

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