ADH TV, with the backing of James Packer and a 20-something chief executive, is giving Alan Jones and others an online platform to the right of Sky News. By Martin McKenzie-Murray.
ADH TV gives Alan Jones a new platform
In a modest building in Sydney, the Parrot has resurrected himself. The ADH TV operation is humble, even if its chief presenter is not: less than a dozen staff, a couple of studios. But Alan Jones is back, baby.
The past few years have not been terribly kind to Jones, once the country’s most influential and pungently divisive broadcaster. In 2020, he left 2GB (vanishing advertisers), lost his column in The Daily Telegraph the next year (Jones no longer “resonated” with readers), and bitterly departed Sky News that same year (see above). Naturally, Jones vehemently disputed the loss of any of his magic or popularity, and gestured irritably to his powerful reach through Facebook.
Which was where Jones saw his revival happening: online. In 2021, his old mate Maurice Newman – the former investment banker, former chair of both the ABC and the Australian Stock Exchange, and ardent espouser of his belief in a New World Order under the sinister engineering of climate scientists and the United Nations – founded Australian Digital Holdings. He signed Jones, and launched the Facebook-based Alan Jones: Direct to the People in December 2021.
The Prophet of Oakey was back. Back squinting his eyes in moral indignation, back quivering his jowls with the world’s injustice, back inviting people onto his show only to ask them if they agreed with him (they do). Political guests were also back. Early ones included then opposition leader Anthony Albanese, Peter Dutton and then NSW state opposition leader Chris Minns. In a recent editorial, Jones commended the courageous grit of Melbourne Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen, who was poised to return to his sport after a year’s painful exile, the result of serious injury. Perseverance is a cherished virtue of Jones’s and, whatever you might say about the man, it cannot be said that he doesn’t possess plenty himself.
Recognising the average age of his audience, and anticipating their difficulty following him to the internet, Jones devoted a generous part of his 2021 web debut to instructing them on the rudiments of streaming. He was a gentle tutor: “It’s easy to watch,” he said. “We all have devices: a smartphone, an iPad, smart TV or a laptop. This is simple.” And then, without pause, the prophet tremulously declared: “We are in critical times, believe me. We have become a nation of one idea. There’s no debate. You’re not allowed to have an alternative viewpoint from that fed to us by the establishment forces.”
While Jones was tutoring his ageing audience, he had recruited youth to create his platform – ADH TV’s chief executive, Jack Bulfin, is just 23.
Maurice Newman, as chairman of the board, was bullishly optimistic: “The reach of [Jones’s] content today on Facebook and YouTube is such that the company I chair, Australian Digital Holdings, believes this program will receive millions of viewers and readers here and overseas.”
That hasn’t been realised – far from it – but the board’s dream of expanding operations, of recruiting a stable of hosts with their own programs, has. In May 2022, the operation was rebadged as ADH TV. It was also retooled: ADH TV offers its programs live and on-demand, through its own website and phone and smart TV apps, five hours of new content a day, most days of the week. Last month, The Australian Financial Review reported that James Packer had become a multimillion-dollar investor. “Alan is a dear, dear friend who I love, and it’s a pleasure to support him,” Packer said.
ADH TV might be to Sky News at night what Newsmax is to Fox – a niche rival and producer of right-wing opinion, often feverishly hyperbolic. On ADH TV, “tyranny” is a recurring word, a catchcry, a shibboleth. It adorns the slogans of individual shows; it liberally salts its presenters’ monologues. There is the tyranny of government, of wokeness, of transgenderism. There is the tyranny of globalism, “experimental” vaccines and carbon reduction. Tyranny is promoted by the corrupt “mainstream media”, and blithely accepted by decadent citizens too morally vain and addicted to TikTok to realise their bondage.
In a recent episode of his self-titled show, Fred Pawle described the global response to the pandemic as “one of the greatest crimes in human history, complete with greedy villains, millions of innocent victims, and a secret pact between politicians, the media and pharmaceutical companies”.
Among other things, ADH TV stands as an outpost MAGA shrine – a temple to the ultimate troll, the supreme edgelord, the greatest procurer of liberal tears who ever lived. Jones is an effusive supporter of Donald Trump, and recently interviewed Don Jr, who mused darkly on the wicked persecution of his father.
A recurring guest of Jones’s is Peggy Grande, who served as Ronald Reagan’s executive assistant after his presidency and who’s leveraged this position into punditry, MAGA cheerleading and “inspiring audiences with Reagan’s lessons and principles”. On her recent appearance, which followed Trump’s indictment for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the 2020 election, she was congratulated by Jones for her acuity when she said Trump’s indictment for electoral interference was itself electoral interference, on account of his running for office again. This idiocy has an elegant circularity to it, I admit. Certainly, it enchanted Jones.
Other presenters include Family First director Lyle Shelton, The Australian’s Nick Cater, commentator Daisy Cousens and the former legal academic, media regulator and avowed monarchist David Flint, whose show is modestly called Save the Nation with Professor David Flint.
Jack Bulfin has said there was a sensible vetting of hosts and content, and that certain applicants for shows had been rejected as too risky. This might be contestable, given the recent appearance of Avi Yemini as a guest on Alexandra Marshall Live. A tiresome provocateur and Melbourne’s bureau chief of Rebel News – a far-right Canadian outlet for whom Marshall once worked – Yemini’s idea of journalism is compulsive tweeting, doxxing critics and provoking police or activists into confrontations – which he films. He is, ultimately, a propagandist for himself; his currency is manufactured controversy.
Opportunistic and supremely insincere, Yemini is unsurprisingly contradictory. He’s a proud Jew who has fraternised with neo-Nazis; a man whose showy contempt for “the mainstream media” hasn’t prevented him from courting its praise for his recent memoir, nor sitting for a photo shoot with The Age. Yemini is dim and indifferent to ideas, but this is beside the point: he craves attention above all else, and is energetically committed to securing it. He remains the young boy who pretended to faint for attention – a lovely detail revealed in Good Weekend’s profile of Yemini earlier this year – albeit a boy also with a conviction for domestic violence. But in the world of ADH TV, this sad clown is offered as a brave cultural warrior.
Daisy Cousens is fascinating, a gifted rhetorician with an irritating affect – she often presents as the wicked witch in a children’s vaudeville. This isn’t snarky exaggeration. Cousens, among other things, is an actress and the child of two thespians – and she clearly enjoys the roles of “flamethrower” and “feminist apostate”. Unlike Lyle Shelton, say, whose sermons on cultural corruption are deathly earnest and grounded in severe interpretations of scripture, Cousens spices her monologues with hyperbole – and she’s quite good at it. About Barbie, Cousens declared the film “a flaming pile of ’90s third-wave feminist garbage … it’s emblematic … of feminists [who] don’t want equality, but female supremacy – to wreak revenge upon the entirety of the male species for a patriarchal past”.
Cousens is at least having fun, unlike those grim elder statesmen of the culture wars Cater, Flint and Newman.
But Alan Jones is the great celestial body around which all ADH TV’s lesser satellites orbit. At 82, Jones still commands the camera as Luciano Pavarotti once did the stage, or a level boss occupies a video game. Where the other presenters’ awkwardness or affectations draw attention to the relatively crude production values, Jones’s self-possession and fluency make them all but invisible. On air, he is shown the same reverence by his colleagues as Jones himself shows John Howard – or, once upon a time, the murderously corrupt copper Roger Rogerson.
Jones remains bafflingly inconsistent but powerfully assured; his armadillo ego still motoring over all potholes. After decades of scandal – of graft, undeclared conflicts of interest, racial vilification, expensive defamation suits, bullying and vulgarity and misinformation, Jones is undimmed, unchastened.
After watching hours of the rebooted Parrot, my developing headache, I realised, was caused not only by his furious, God-like certainty, but the fact that each editorial seemed curiously discrete, estranged from any consistency of principle (at least declared ones – I have no doubt that each is unified by his own particular hatreds). And so, Paul Brereton and the Nine reporters were dishonourable beasts for investigating Australian war crimes; but Julian Assange, who published evidence of US war crimes, was a martyr. Russia was an evil conqueror; but Trump, the isolationist and Putin admirer, was the West’s “last great hope”. The Coalition were “finally getting sensible” about domestic nuclear energy, but Bob Carr was right that nuclear submarines presented a “grandiose” and likely unachievable development for a country with no applicable nuclear infrastructure or appropriately skilled labour.
In that recent interview with Carr, Jones took 40 minutes with the former NSW premier and foreign affairs minister to effectively ask him one question, the answer to which he already knew – should Assange be released after 14 years of effective imprisonment when the provider of the US intelligence he published, Chelsea Manning, has long been released?
He’s not a masterful interviewer. In fact, Jones is not really an interviewer at all. He’s a sculptor, who in the act of interviewing moulds great tributes to his own certitude.
Jones’s late advocacy for Assange is curious, and I suspect motivated by two things: one, that it allows him to condemn the prime minister’s weakness and two, that Jones enjoyed WikiLeaks’ embarrassment of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US election, and believes a free Assange may once again serve as a useful agent of chaos in the next US election.
At ADH TV, paranoia is in. But conspiratorial grievance is neither new, nor created in a vacuum. Maurice Newman’s invocation of a New World Order bonds him with historic variations of his theme, expressed over centuries.
When presenters argue that progressives are too often unforgiving, illiberal and smug – I can sympathise. But if the left’s language of puritanism is often graceless, so too is the language of its rebels. It’s the sound of a hammer pounding an anvil. For now, I think, not too many care to hear it. If ADH TV’s modest ratings are any indication, there are more neutrals in the Australian culture wars than combatants. And for that, we might be grateful.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 19, 2023 as "Me, the People".
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