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Shock jocks and the politics of fear…

By Legal Eagle

A recent report by ACMA found that Alan Jones had encouraged violence and brutality and engaged in racial vilification of people from a Lebanese Muslim background. I must confess that I didn’t know who Jones was until a few years back. In Melbourne, he doesn’t have any influence (at least, as far as I’m aware). It’s scary to think that he has a lot of influence in Sydney. Jones’ influence can be seen from the responses of John Howard and Kevin Rudd to the finding: each said they had no problem with Jones’ conduct, and would continue to appear on the program if requested.

The history preceding the findings against Jones should be set out before looking at the allegations in detail.

On 4 December 2005, two or three off-duty volunteer lifesavers were reported to have been assaulted by a group of Lebanese men at Cronulla beach. Jones mentioned the issue on his program on from Monday 5 – Friday 9 December 2005. It was alleged was that gangs of Lebanese men had been harassing beachgoers over a number of years, that it was a persistent problem and that the State government and the police were unwilling or unable to do anything about the matter.

On 7 December 2005, Jones read out a letter from a listener:

‘J’ has a good answer, he says police and the council are impotent here; all rhetoric and no action: “My suggestion is to invite the biker gangs to be present at Cronulla Railway station when these Lebanese thugs arrive, the biker gangs have been much maligned but they do a lot of good things – it would be worth the price of admission to watch these cowards scurry back onto the train for the return trip to their lairs…and wouldn’t it be brilliant if the whole event was captured on TV cameras and featured on the evening news so that we, their parents, family and friends can see who these bastards are…Australians old and new should not have to put up with this scum…“ 

[offending statement emphasised]

On 8 December 2005, Jones mentioned a text message which was being sent around which stated, “This Sunday every Aussie in the Shire get down to North Cronulla to support the Leb and Wog bashing day, bring your mates, let’s show them that this is our beach and they’re never welcome.” He then said:

“And I say to all those young – hey, you’re not in charge of law and order, we do have law and order people. Boys, don’t get down there and come at this nonsense, this will only make things worse. The police are genuinely concerned now that the SMS is going to inflame things even further and we’ll – we’re talking about vigilante retribution.” 

A caller, ‘B’, contacted Jones on 8 December expressed concern that the issue was not as one-sided as it had been portrayed, and that both sides were egging each other on. Jones responded as follows:

“Yeah, let’s not get too carried away ‘B’, we don’t have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in Western Sydney. So let’s not get carried away with all this mealy-mouthed talk about there being two sides. I can tell you, because my correspondence here from mums and dads I am inundated, and I don’t hear people complaining about Catholics and Protestants and Anglicans, I’m sorry, but there’s this religious element in all of this and we’ve got to make sure that we welcome people into our community but we welcome them in on certain terms and certain standards and those standards are not being met. So let’s not have this mealy mouth talk about oh well, everyone’s to blame. All across Sydney there is a universal concern that there are gangs, the gangs are of one ethnic composition, and they have one thing in mind and I’ve read some of the correspondence from here…” 

[offending statement emphasised]

On 11 December 2005, there was a gathering of people at Cronulla beach to “reclaim the beach”. Although the event started off peacefully, the demonstrators began to assault people of a “Middle Eastern appearance”. They also threw cans at and attacked police and ambulance personnel. On the evening of 11 December and the following day, there were retaliatory attacks by groups of youths of “Middle Eastern appearance”, in which vehicles and shops were vandalised, some people were assaulted and one man was stabbed. This event later became known as the 2005 Cronulla Riots.

There was a perception that the NSW State government trod very lightly on this issue because of fears that they could alienate a certain sector of the voting public. It is worth noting that Lakemba is in Premier Iemma’s electorate. But this does no one any favours. In the long run, it increases tension and resentment. Jones was able to pick up the perception of preferential treatment, and use it to his advantage. If there is a problem with ethnic gangs in Sydney, it should be faced openly by all (police, government, Lebanese-Australians and other Australians). Gang members should be treated equally by police and the government, regardless of their ethnicity. It is not good to try and suppress concerns on the basis of “political correctness”.

I think it is a mistake to simply write off the Cronulla riots as “racist”. As caller ‘B’ said to Jones, there are two sides to every story. On the one hand, groups of young men (seemingly of predominantly Lebanese extraction) were coming to Cronulla beach to make trouble. But on the other hand, it is not fair if innocent people (Lebanese, Middle Eastern or just “of Middle Eastern appearance”) are prevented from coming to Cronulla beach or are abused because of their appearance. As I have always said on this blog, people should not be judged on the basis of their ethnic background or their religion, but by their behaviour. Each group needs to take a long hard look at violent, racist behaviour within their own community, and make it clear that there is no excuse for picking fights or harassing innocent beach goers.

It seems clear, also, that there was a failure by the State government to take the problem seriously until matters had escalated. If there had been more police available to patrol the beaches before the riots occurred, and to nip any fights in the bud, it may be that the riots would not have happened.

It seems to me that Jones’ comments were very ill-considered indeed, and he certainly inflamed tensions. The comment that really gets my goat is “we don’t have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in Western Sydney.” This suggests that Anglo-Saxon men do not commit rape, but Middle Eastern and Lebanese men do. Anyone who looks at criminal law cases involving rape will know that rapists come from all ethnicities and backgrounds. One only has to look at this report about two recent rapes to establish this (one rapist appears to have been an Anglo-Australian man, born and bred here; the other appears to have been a dark-skinned man who originated from another country.)

To my mind, Alan Jones is no better than the Mufti, Sheik Hillaly. The Mufti suggests Australian women are asking for it; Jones suggests that all Lebanese Muslim men are rapists. Both comments are utterly irresponsible. Both pander to popular stereotypes held by their respective audiences, and do not admit any moderation. I believe that Jones should resign, just as I believe that the Mufti should resign. Rape is not about how much clothing the victim is wearing. Nor is it about the ethnicity of the perpetrator. Both of these things are excuses. Rape is about power, and a desire to degrade the victim.

The comment about “we don’t have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in Western Sydney” refers to the Sydney gang rapes committed by the Skaf brothers and their associates. The perpetrators were of a Lebanese background. This underlying issue contributed greatly to the tension leading to the Cronulla riots. Bilal Skaf was alleged to have taunted his victims about their Australian background. He is said to have called one rape victim an “Aussie pig”, asked her if “Leb cock tasted better than Aussie cock” and explained to her that she would now be raped “Leb-style”. Another victim was said to have been told by a perpetrator, “You deserve it because you’re an Australian”. Although I apologise for the offensive nature of these comments, I have set them out in full to show that a passing reference by Jones to the matter was capable of creating great anger and distress in listeners.

As I have discussed before, if there was not a racist element to the crime, the background of the perpetrators would be irrelevant. But because of the racial motive, the ethnic background of the perpetrators should be mentioned, because otherwise the crime cannot be fully understood.

However, the media has to be responsible about the way in which it reports and deals with these problems. People who hold a great deal of power to sway public opinion should be very careful. Just because some Muslim Lebanese people are thugs does not mean all Muslim Lebanese people are bad. By the same token, just because some Australian people are thugs does not mean all Australians are bad. While one should not be bound by “political correctness”, and should be able to say that particular people within a group are behaving badly, it is irresponsible to suggest that an entire community is bad. To suggest that the problem only comes from one group or the other does not help matters at all. It just inflames tensions further, and increases resentment between the two groups. But I suspect that is how a demagogue like Jones gets his jollies.

I really dislike the politics of fear. It results in bad decisions. It allows an angry mob to jump to conclusions. It is difficult to control once released. I am very wary of appeals to mass prejudice – that way lies immense evil. I wish our political leaders had had the courage of their convictions to reject the siren call of people like Jones.

10 Comments

  1. Irfan Yusuf
    Posted April 15, 2007 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I have to say that this is one of the best-written blogs I’ve come across. As expected, it is authored by a lawyer.

  2. Lad Litter
    Posted April 15, 2007 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Couldn’t agree more with Irfan’s sentiments. You’re debating background shines through! Do you think there could be political capital to be had from standing up to the shock-jocks? No political leaders in the recent past have had a go at it.

  3. Legal Eagle
    Posted April 15, 2007 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks guys! :-) I put a lot of work and thought into it.

    I would certainly support someone who stood up to shock jocks. I suppose the question is how many other people out there think like we do?

  4. B-)
    Posted April 15, 2007 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s very interesting to contrast the response Jones got in the wake of his comments to that dealt out to Don Imus in the States in the last fortnight or so.

  5. Legal Eagle
    Posted April 15, 2007 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely! I was going to put a postscript to my post mentioning that exact thing, but you beat me to it!

  6. Mondo Rock
    Posted April 16, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    To be honest my view of the whole incident is best summed up in the following paragraph from you LE:

    It seems clear, also, that there was a failure by the State government to take the problem seriously until matters had escalated. If there had been more police available to patrol the beaches before the riots occurred, and to nip any fights in the bud, it may be that the riots would not have happened.

    Fundamentally the Cronulla riots were a protest at a (perceived or real) breakdown in law and order in the Shire. The targets of the protest should have been State politicians and area police command, who appear to have completely understaffed and ignored an area that was suffering from increasing flare-ups between differing communities.

    Unfortunately, however, uneducated, ignorant and racist elements on both sides of the fence turned it into a race issue.

    Jones was one of those who managed to blur the issue into one of ‘race’ and therefore contribute to the riots that ultimately occurred.

  7. peter
    Posted April 16, 2007 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    They were not HIS comment – he was reading out listeners’ emails. You should fix this.

    What happened to “defending the right to speak despite disagreeing with what is spoken” principle? Do you believe Joe Citizen is not entitled to voice their concern on pack rapists? (sure – remove the broad generalisation). Have you been to any shopping centre in Parramatta and seen these 20+ thugs just stand there staring / glaring / oggling girls / menacing people? I for one was not surprised this was the response.

    Also, Jones listeners demographics hardly meet the people who participated in the riot.

    Funny how the media now don’t say the suspects are of “middle Eastern appearance”, when the police still do.

    Tim Blair’s “men of no appearance” is so perfect.

  8. Legal Eagle
    Posted April 16, 2007 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Peter,

    I think you need to read my post again more carefully.

    I said: “On 7 December 2005, Jones read out a letter from a listener” and put the letter in italics and quotation marks to make it clear that it was not his own words (although the ACMA report was not so clear). I later said that he “mentioned a text message”. I did not say that these sentiments were his sentiments.

    Of course citizens are entitled to voice their concern about pack rapists and about racist motives behind particular crimes. That is part of my point. I think the media should be able comment openly if people of a particular ethnic group are committing racist crimes.

    If you read my post carefully, I said that political correctness does no one any favours:

    “In the long run, it increases tension and resentment… If there is a problem with ethnic gangs in Sydney, it should be faced openly by all (police, government, Lebanese-Australians and other Australians). Gang members should be treated equally by police and the government, regardless of their ethnicity.”

    Pretending there is not a problem is not the answer. Yes, I know packs of such guys stand there in a menacing fashion, leering at girls. It is scary and intimidating to walk past them if one is female (as I am). Large groups of young aggressive-looking men hanging around is not good, whatever the ethnicity of the group. I would feel equally scared if the group were Anglo-Saxon, Chinese or whatever. I think the police should ask these blokes to move along.

    But the media should be responsible, and ensure that innocent people who also belong to a particular community are not all tarred with the same brush. By making generalisations, Jones ensures that a wedge is driven between the two different communities further.

    Jones’ listeners may not be the ones who attended the Cronulla riot – the demographic of the listeners would be parents or grandparents of the attendees. But my point is that broadcasts such as Jones’ create an atmosphere within the families of listeners where it becomes acceptable to generalise about all people from the Middle East. The result is that some of the people who were attacked were innocent bystanders, and some were not Lebanese at all (one was a Jewish man and another was a Greek girl).

    I am not saying Jones cannot make comments about such matters, but that he should exercise some caution, and not generalise. Where does one draw the line with freedom of speech? Is it okay to hold rallies saying that Jews should be killed? Is it okay to print articles saying all Muslims should be put in concentration camps? What do you think? Do you think that sometimes the line between freedom of speech and vilification and incitement to violence is a difficult one to draw?

    Cheers, LE

  9. peter
    Posted April 17, 2007 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I am referring to this line:

    “It seems to me that Jones’ comments were very ill-considered indeed, and he certainly inflamed tensions.”

    Nowhere in your entry do you quote what Jones said himself, but rather you quoted what Jones read out. Hence, “Jones’ comments” cannot refer to Jones own words, but in this sentence you make this error of apportioning his readers’ comments as his own.

    meh your blog.

    I agree people need to exercise caution where they have influence – that is common sense. It is also important to give exposure to peoples’ feelings, even if they are racist, so we can understand where they are coming from, and with reasonable responses, those people may see that being racist is not helpful to solving a cultural clash.

  10. Legal Eagle
    Posted April 17, 2007 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I agree, Peter, that it’s really important to not dismiss people’s feelings with the tag “racism” – there may be legitimate concerns mixed in with prejudice.

    Oh dear, I’m not down and jiggy with it… I had to look up meh in the urban dictionary – modern equivalent of What-e-ver!

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] immense influence, and can ratchet people’s feelings up to a dangerous level (see previous post on Alan Jones, Sydney shock jock). On the other hand, preventing someone like Limbaugh from playing [...]

  2. [...] him is to is to give him credence. To be honest, as a Melbourner, I never really knew much about Jones until the Cronulla riots. And what I heard then didn’t impress me. It’s not that Jones is right-wing. I have [...]

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