Regulator clears Alan Jones of NBN falsehoods


true or false checkboxes

news Australia’s broadcast media regulator has cleared Alan Jones of any wrongdoing in a controversial broadcast in October 2012 in which the radio shockjock claimed the National Broadband Network was a “white elephant” and a “disaster” and that the future of telecommunications was “clearly wireless”, with the regulator giving Jones a pass because his statements were classified as “opinion” and not as “fact”.

Jones’ comments at the time stemmed from a report in The Australian newspaper that negotiations had collapsed between the Labor Federal Government and the Coalition NSW State Government over access to NSW power poles to aid in NBN Co’s fibre rollout across NSW.


“Well this NBN disaster rolls on,” said Jones. “The white elephant promotes cable technology when the future is clearly wireless. And it’s hopelessly behind schedule, hopelessly over budget, hopelessly unable to capture the public’s imagination. And will be obsolete before it’s built, but polls today say it’s 50-50 [laughs]. How high would they be in the polls if they got something right? Only about 15 per cent of households have bothered to connect to it where it’s been rolled out – 15 per cent.”

“Some say we’ll eventually fork out $50 billion to build it. It’s not in the budget, and it’s hard not to see why. Consider this for example, I see the O’Farrell Government is fighting a last-ditch battle with the Commonwealth over the cost of rolling out NBN cable onto New South Wales power poles where cable can’t go underground. The Federal Government’s now threatening to use draconian laws to overrule New South Wales, a move which the State Government says will force it to increase the cost of electricity to consumers by between $5 and $7 for 20 years.”

Subsequent to Jones’ broadcast, a number of listeners filed complaints with the Australian Communications and Media Authority. According to a judgement document published by the regulator last week, the complainants had alleged that a number of Jones’ claims had been factually inaccurate and did not present both sides of various arguments regarding the NBN debate.

On the issue of factual inaccuracy, it appears as though the complainants’ claims that Jones was wrong were accurate on several counts.

For example, the global telecommunications industry is currently almost universally in agreement that in every country, telecommunications needs will continue to be served by a mix of fixed and wireless infrastructure, rather than purely wireless as Jones claimed.

In addition, Jones’ comment that the NBN will be obsolete before it is built is also incorrect. The fibre technology while will constitute the vast majority of the NBN rollout contains the potential to be upgraded to deliver 1Gbps speeds to premises and potentially higher speeds in future; the deployment of this technology universally around Australia is expected to place Australia amongst the global leading countries when it comes to telecommunications. It is expected that this technology will be in use for multiple decades – at least between 30 to 50 years.

Also incorrect were Jones’ claims that the NBN was “hopelessly unable to capture the public’s imagination” and that the NBN should be included in the Federal Budget as an expense, rather than as a capital investment. In addition, Jones’ statement that only 15 percent of households have bothered to connect to the NBN where it has been rolled out was also misleading.

Jones’ statement that the NBN was behind schedule and hopelessly over budget did contain some grounding in truth.

However, in its judgement published last week (available online in PDF format here), the ACMA did not consider whether Jones’ claims were factually accurate or not, because it instead firstly defined them as being opinion rather than statements of fact. Because Jones’ controversial NBN claims could be classed as opinion, ACMA ruled, their factual inaccuracy was not an issue it could address.

Wrote the ACMA in its judgement: “The segment opened with a strong judgmental remark by Mr Jones which set the tenor and tone of the segment, ‘Well, this NBN disaster rolls on.’ It continued with a number of hyperbolic statements and predictions, including those about which the complaints were made.”

“Statements of this kind are inherently subjective and the use of exaggerated and emotive terms such as ‘white elephant’, ‘disaster’ and ‘hopelessly’ will often be indicative of an expression of opinion rather than fact. The line between fact and opinion is often not clear.”

“However, in this case, the ACMA is satisfied that the statements ‘the future is clearly wireless’ and that the NBN ‘will be obsolete before it’s built’ were expressions of opinion, as were Mr Jones’ statements concerning the degree of delay and excess in budget in the rollout of the NBN project.”

With respect to the need to present both sides of the argument, Jones’ station 2GB pointed out that on various occasions in the months of February through April 2012, various of its hosts, including Ben Fordham, Chris Smith and Ray Hadley, had reported news about the NBN, raed out NBN statements or interviewed then-NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley.

The ACMA noted in its judgement that because the ‘balance’ requirement was imposed on a radio station licensee, not a particular presenter or program, and that because 2GB had presented information which showed the NBN in a positive light, even though Jones specifically had not, and even though those presentations had taken place six months before the offending Jones broadcast on 29 October, that 2GB had met its obligations regarding balance.

The only complaint the ACMA upheld regarding Jones’ controversial NBN broadcast was in relation to 2GB’s complaints handling procedures. The station did not satisfactorily address complaints regarding Jones’ broadcast, claiming that it did not receive the complaint.

Uh …. what? So Alan Jones can just make whatever inaccurate statements he wants about the NBN live on air, and get away with it because they’re presented as opinion, not as fact? And balance is achieved because another, more moderate 2GB presenter interviewed Mike Quigley a couple of times six months before Jones’ broadcast?

Hogwash. That is what this is. Hogwash. Jones made blatantly inaccurate statements live on air to a large audience and got away with it completely, proving once again that the ACMA is a toothless tiger of a regulator.

But then … I find it extremely hard to be surprised by this eventuality. In an age where it seems every week that a senior Australian journalist deserts the profession to become a PR flack and many of the rest are investigating the thorny issues of sending sex toys into space or which brand of tomato sauce is served at McDonald’s, nothing should be surprising. Hell, some journalists, most journalists, are even prepared to believe that delivering university textbooks by drone is technically viable and represents a legitimate business model. One wonders what will be next.

Remember kids … “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” And above all … falsehoods, in our current media environment, are true.

Image credit (of Alan Jones): Jeremy Buckingham, Creative Commons


  1. Let’s see, they found him in breach in previous occasions, and applied appropriate penalties… I wonder what has changed since then… could there be some reason why they are suddenly letting him off the hook…

  2. I dont think it really makes a difference. Whether you agree or disagree with what he said, pretty much everyone has already made up their minds. A guilty decision doesnt change that.

    What it does mean is that he can now go off on some tangent about how the regulators agreed with him…

    All I can suggest is that if he keeps spouting what you see as falsehoods, keep complaining.

  3. A decisive victory for the precepts of open society, freedom of thought and speech where one is not forced to modify one’s opinions and views to suit the policy propaganda of any one political party. Also, a massive victory for the non-gullible.

    • Freedom of speech my foot. Rights come with responsibilities. Alan Jones should be allowed to speak as he pleases, but that freedom should also come with accountability. If he gets something wrong (as he frequently does), he should own up to his mistake. Not doing so demonstrates a complete lack of integrity. Some of the rulings that have come out against Alan Jones have been after an agreement between ACMA and 2GB in which 2GB promised that Jones’ producers would fact-check him. The agreement clearly isn’t working.

      It’s these bizarrely lax standards which have allowed Australian radio to be polluted with the likes of Alan Jones. When print journalists are found to have screwed something up, they are required to acknowledge said screw up. Requiring the same of radio broadcasters would only raise the standard of national discourse and debate.

    • After all, you can’t let things like truth and facts get in the road of opinion and agenda.

    • But had it been someone associated with the other side of politics, you would have been screaming blue murder…

      Admit it.

      And then FFS open both eyes, even only once, please…

      • Projecting much, Alex? I get riled when *anybody* gets away with peddling inaccuracies and falsehoods, regardless of their political persuasion. My eyes are wide open, and all I see is a media that has been persistently failing the public.

    • “Also, a massive victory for the non-gullible.”

      I would be laughing at the irony about this statement in context of the topic had it not been for the fact that this was said as a straight and serious comment.

      I weep for this country that every day critical thinking is dead and sacrificed to the altar of “political truth”.

      Possibly one of the greatest achievements ever of partisan politics – blind obedience and trust to our leaders and their views.

  4. Maybe Alan’s show should start with a disclaimer:

    The following is a work of fiction All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  5. What a load of rubbish. There are some parts of it which can be taken as opinion, but there is no way statements like the NBN being over budget can be opinion, it either is or it isn’t.

  6. If there were even one instance when Alan Jones took Malcolm Turnbull to task for perpetuating the “white elephant” of stupid old wired networking in the Coalition NBN design, instead of Alan’s clearly superior wireless fantasy future, then I would be prepared to dismiss him as just a blowhard who fancies himself a network engineer because he once helped his manservant set up his 3G modem, or some such feat.

    But, when he in one sentence lambasted NBNCo as a bunch of jokers for not seeing the magical wireless vision inside Alan’s head, then in the next went on to introduce the blinkered, tired-old-wired Malcolm Turnbull and served him up a bunch of softball Dorothy Dixers that let Malcolm recite his latest NBN talking points, it is painfully obvious that his hyperbolic comments were thinly disguised pretexts to dump on Labor and root for the Coalition, and had no genuine connection with any principled (if clueless) stand on how the NBN should be built.

    Alan Jones will never apply the same standard to the Coalition NBN that he has to the Labor NBN.
    He will never take the Coalition to task for building a wire/fibre network.
    He will never insist to a Coalition politician that their NBN should be included as an expense in the budget, or suggest that the (still off-budget) money should better be spent on, say, flood relief, as Tony Abbott did in 2011.
    He will probably give the NBN very little mention at all from now on. His mission was already accomplished when the fate of the NBN, along with the rest of the country, passed into the safe hands of his good mates.

    • Ive said it before an I’ll say it again.

      It just shows that the Media in Austraia dont have the guts to go after the truth, and hold such simpletons as Alan Jones accountable to fact.

      The Media in this country is a complete failure to get to the truth, Alan Jones, Turnbull and Abbott should be in the headline news everyday with the media frying them for falsehoods.

      Media should be doing this regardless of what political party is in power.

      As for the regulators, (#$@!&^% cowards)

      • When the large majority of the media coverage in Australia is owned by a a guy who lives in the US and has an agenda that aligns with “Alan Jones, Turnbull and Abbott” – his media will question nothing and only provide praise for falsehoods.

    • Now that the government has changed hands, how is Alan going to find enough rants to fill his time slot?

      I wonder more about his advertisers. Why would you buy time in a program whose credibility is so lacking?

  7. Repeat after me Renae, opinions that differ from your own are not factually wrong, they are opinions.

    The definition of a bigot is someone who denies other people the opportunity to express opinions that differ from their own. The definition of a bully is someone who attempts to coerce or intimidate other people into not expressing opinions they don’t agree with. Delimiter has consistently practiced and advocated bigotry and bullying on this issue.

    The right to express differing opinions is essential for democracy to work.

    • There is a line between Opinion and Fact.

      If you say the NBN will be a White Elephant or is a ridiculous waste of money that is opinion.

      If you state Wireless is the future ,the NBN is wildly over budget, only 15% have connected and will be obsolete before it is built these are facts which are incorrect and can be proven to be wrong.

  8. speak the devils name and he will appear, so i guess AJ has got us using his name and therfore he wins free publicity. they should be able to fine his ass into poverty but alas as media watch noted they have as much power over him as we have over our new PM

  9. So the end result is that Alan Jones’ comments are just his personal opiniton, and not based on facts.

  10. If the new government is looking for examples of waste, here’s and easy one: ACMA. But this decision has probably ensured its survival.

  11. I’d say the media in this country DOES have the guts to find the truth, it’s just that they are paid not to.

    • Correction – it gets stonewalled because the same culprits who will be affected by the changes are also the same one’s who make the biggest stink about “regulation” ie. Conservative Talkback

      Or did everyone forget the massive page 1 spread from the Telegraph when the laws were anounced on how the government was clamping down on “freedom of speach”?

  12. Forget this specific case with regards to 2GB what we have is a organization that has been found repeatably in breach of its license. ACMA need some real teeth, all they can really is remove the broadcast license and can you imagine the resulting court case, because while the breaches are numerous they are not consider major breaches. The need to be able to have scaled responses something the stations will take seriously. ATM 2GB gets a wrist slap and ‘I promise we won’t do it again I swear’, How about next time they get hit with a repeat offenses the get taken off the air for a short period the lost of advertising revenue and listener good will alone might get them to behave.

  13. @GordonD writes “The definition of a bigot is someone who denies other people the opportunity to express opinions that differ from their own. The definition of a bully is someone who attempts to coerce or intimidate other people into not expressing opinions they don’t agree with.”

    Hmm. So when Alan Jones cuts off, talks over or shouts down people who manage to make any headway against him on air, either in studio or calling on the phone, he is a bigot, in your terms. Good to know.

    But as for your playing of the “bully” card: what I do wonder about is what the bullies I met at school were, according to your definition, trying to stop me saying that might upset them. It might have been “stop hitting me and threatening me with violence”, or “stop constantly calling me a poof”, or “stop vandalising my property”, all of which were quite appropriate for their actions towards me. They weren’t trying to win a rational, evidence-based debate about my sexuality or appropriateness as a punching bag, they were trying to make me suffer.

    If for some reason pointing out obvious flaws in arguments about technical issues does in fact make you suffer because you feel unable to continue with those arguments, then you can easily look for some other forum where the opinions expressed are unchallenging or somehow cushioned enough not to be painful to you. It’s a far cry from making you have to change your job, or school, or leave a marriage, or making you want to end your own life. That’s what actual bullying can do.

  14. Communications in Australia has gone WRONG since deregulation. The setup was wrong. You had ones on both sides in Canberra who did not understand it.
    Fact 1. Only the MAJOR CAPITAL CITIES make a profit. The problem why service to the country is so bad.
    Fact 2. We do not have the population for so many carriers.
    Fact 3. Look at who now OWNS and CONTROL our satellite services. Security issue.
    Fact 4. How secure is our communications with offshore call centers.
    Fact 5. The NBN model is wrong. Never can you build the same for everyone in the one go.

    • The NBN had to be done in a proper project management way like the old projects in government departments were done and were successful.

      Some of the NBN will fail and need replacement before areas are done.

      It appears they DO NOT HAVE the skill level required.

      Alan and Ray only report the problems that the public feel. You cannot expect them to have all the skills to see where the massive problems with the NBN are.

      It is the BIGGEST DISASTER in Australia’s history. It could of been done so different.

      The NBN will give us at the most 4TH WORLD Communications.

      We were the TOP in communications but now we are going downhill FAST.

      Overseas Call centers are a major SECURITY concern.

      I do not agree with AJ on one point and that is that the future is WIRELESS. We do not have the spectrum and reception problems will limit wireless use.
      We need Australians working to improve communications in Australia in Australia not using contractors overseas to do work which is a total waste of our resources.

      We are not to be the profit generator for Overseas Big Business which we are becoming.
      Australians will suffer.

Comments are closed.