Hadley, Jones & Sandilands: How long will they remain untouchable?

Hadley, Jones & Sandilands: How long will men of radio remain untouchable?

If Kyle Sandilands had lived 500 years ago, some of his controversial remarks of late may have got him stoned. Blasphemy laws were more common back then.

Here in Australia, Sandilands, and his ilk, are seemingly above the law. The commercial radio personality has become a popular statue set in stone within the cultural infrastructure of the radio community.

Last week, Sandilands sparked yet another public furore when he said on his breakfast show that the Virgin Mary was likely taken “behind a shed” and impregnated.

“The mother lied obviously and told everyone ‘Nah, I got pregnant by a magical ghost.’ Bullshit.” He continued, later saying that those who believed the Bible are “dumb as dog shit.” 

Returning on air on Monday morning, the 48-year old attempted at an apology.

He began, of course, by highlighting his own grief and victimhood since the incident.

“My telephone number was put online, I started getting phone calls. Very quickly, I became very aware that the thing that I’d said had pissed a lot of people off.”

Sandilands went on about the aggression and threats he received by these calls, then adding “The main thing I took out of it was, you know me. I believe everyone has their own right to their own opinion… It was a joke. I didn’t plan it. I just spit-balled it, doing it live, here, doing what I do.”

It sounded rather like he was defending his behaviour.

“I was just trying to make people have a laugh,” he added.

His apology did not sound scripted, which, to my mind, suggests he felt it did not deserve to be given that much attention or planning? His certainty that he would not be held accountable for his ongoing controversial on-air views was brash.

“Am I going to quit? No. Am I going to get fired? No.” 

The Australian Radio Network (ARN) issued their own apology through a spokesperson in a statement. “We echo Kyle’s statement and unreservedly apologise for any offence that may have been caused. When this content ran, we immediately recognised that it wasn’t appropriate for distribution and it was removed immediately.”

Sandilands is not unfamiliar with controversy. His on-air brand is predicated on his blokey-careless schtick and the penalties for him are always minimal to none. The years speak for themselves. He’s been on air since 1992, longer than many of my friends have been alive.

Of course, he’s not the only man in radio causing waves.

Who can forget the chaos Alan Jones sparked last month, when he said New Zealand PM Jacinda Arden should have a sock shoved down her throat.

And let’s not forget the allegations of violence in the workplace and bullying surrounding his 65-year old 2GB colleague, Ray Hadley.

The ABC Grandstand presenter Andrew Moore told the ABC that Hadley would yell and scream at people.

It’s not simply that these men seem to fall under the ‘can do no evil’ privileges awarded to many men who inherently (through institutional and cultural support) are unburdened by the accountability most are tethered to for their actions. No.

These men can do evil. And while there are those who take the time to raise their arms and call them out, nothing changes. They move onto the next offence with limited – if any – repercussions. They remain firmly ensconced in their influential positions.

Last week, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that impeachment proceedings would begin against U.S president Donald Trump; the sound bite that emerged most popularly was that “No one is above the law.”

It certainly seems in Australia, some individuals are above the law. Or, at least, above the standard measure of accountability which one would presume one is held to.

The threshold for radio ‘legends’ like Sandilands, Jones and Hadley seem to be very, very high.  

“We’ve all made mistakes in our life,” Sandilands said in his latest apology, “ and this is just one of the many that I’ve made. You can add it to the list.”

The nature of an apology is two parts. First, the recognition and acknowledgement of the error of your ways, and second, an attempt to try to change those ways.

It sounds like Sandilands does not care for the second step. “Add it to the list”, he said, like he’s charting the number of times a whale is beached during any given season. Like it’s completely outside his culpability.

A feature on Alan Jones last week in the Sydney Morning Herald painted Jones almost as a rather convivial, chummy bloke. His executive producer was quoted as saying “A lot of people turn to him because they don’t know who else to turn to.”

When Jones opened up to the journalist about the disapproval he receives, Jennie Duke observed “you get the sense he is puzzled by the ferocity of that criticism.”

Are we supposed to feel sympathy? 

I’m sorry, but his so called “old fashioned” views including a refusal to use “bad language in front of women” doesn’t disqualify him from being a misogynist. 

Recall the backlash after Jones’ attack on Arden. It was the biggest advertising boycott in the radio network’s history, when more than 100 brands distanced themselves from the show. But apart from that, what’s happened?

Nothing much.

He’s retained access to the ears of more than 677,000 people who listen to 2GB everyday. He’s kept his immense platform, privilege and voice. He gets two columns a week in The Australian and two nights a week on Sky News – which rakes in the highest ratings for the network, owned by Rupert Murdoch.

“I am going to continue to express my views,” Jones said, promising to “get on with the job”-  which pays him $4 million a year. He told Duke “No one deserves to be protected” – yet seems to be totally blind to his own protection.

The particular flavour of self-righteous indignation feels familiar. It’s not unlike the rhetoric of far-right, extremist groups across Europe, America and elsewhere.

In his interview with Duke, he claims that the comments he gets are “violent”, “vulgar” and “threatening” – while failing to acknowledge that his own publicly stated views are often exactly the same.

Who can forget the time Jones despicably suggested that PM Julia Gillard’s father had “died of shame”, as a result of his daughter’s leadership the week after his passing?

Ultimately, there are different kinds of power and Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Kyle Sandilands undeniably retain a special brand of it. But seemingly, those who hold it, can’t see it. It’s invisible to them.

The two shows Sandilands and Jones head (KIIS and 2GB respectively) remain at the top of the breakfast radio market, and ABC presenter Andrew Moore has a theory as to why these men cannot be sacked which is hard to disagree with:

“He brings in a lot of revenue. They pay him a lot of money and they’re going to protect that at all costs.”

Let the money talk. The money is loud. It tells us what we, as a society, our culture, are willing to uphold. 

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