CANBERRA - Alan Jones, multimillionaire broadcaster, former Wallabies coach and close friend of Australia's rich and famous has frightened the national broadcaster away from revealing the secrets of his life.
ABC's commercial division, ABC Enterprises, has decided to not publish a book by one of its award-winning investigative reporters, Chris Masters, four years and vast amounts of research after it was commissioned.
The decision to drop the book Jonestown was taken after Jones' lawyer warned ABC books that litigation would follow publication.
The ABC board, meeting for the first time since the Government abolished the seat previously reserved for a staff representative, reportedly insisted publication not go ahead.
The decision was made even after legal advisers said Jones would have no real grounds to sue.
Jones, 63, is one of Australia's most influential broadcasters, frequently setting political agendas through his morning show on Sydney radio 2GB and popularity with some of the most powerful figures in the country.
He was a speechwriter for former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser at the time when John Howard was a rising star, and enjoys access to the present Prime Minister and his colleagues.
Jones was among the exclusive few to be invited to a private dinner with US President George W. Bush at The Lodge, the Prime Minister's official residence in Canberra.
Such is his influence that he was paid large sums to promote major corporate names such as Telstra, Optus and Qantas on his show under the guise of news, in the affair that became known as the cash-for-comment scandal.
Masters was commissioned to write an unauthorised biography after presenting a programme about Jones and his power for the ABC TV's Four Corners show in 2002.
But with the book almost ready for publication, Masters was told on Friday that ABC Books would not be publishing Jonestown. A brief statement from the head of ABC Enterprises, Robyn Watts, said the organisation was not prepared to risk financial loss.
"ABC Enterprises has a clear responsibility to deliver a commercial return to the ABC," the statement said.
"To proceed with publication will almost certainly result in commercial loss, which would be irresponsible."
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the book was dropped after Jones' lawyer, Mark O'Brien, wrote to the head of ABC Books, Stuart Neal, foreshadowing legal action.
"The materials we have seen [from the book] are replete with false and inappropriate sexual innuendo," the newspaper quoted O'Brien's letter as saying.
But the ABC Media Watch programme said on Monday night that legal advice to the ABC board had indicated that there were no legal impediments to publication and that the organisation should not be intimidated into axing the project.
Masters, a veteran of 40 years with the ABC, was shocked and dismayed by the decision, though he could take the manuscript to other publishers.
"I think this is an important book," he told ABC television's Lateline show.
"It's a book for these times. It's a book about populism in politics, a very important subject."
The decision has also been attacked in a petition signed by some of the ABC's biggest names.
"The sight of the ABC caving in under political or commercial pressures invites the powerful and wealthy to believe threats can deter the ABC from producing controversial material through any of its outlets," the petition said.
MAN WITH AN APPETITE FOR TROUBLE ...
Radio shock jock, ex-Wallaby rugby coach, speechwriter for politicians including the current Prime Minister, John Howard, Alan Jones never strays far from controversy. He is one of Australia's highest-paid media personalities.
* In January 1993 Jones described the choice of Mandawuy Yunupingu as Australian of the Year as an "insult" and said he got the award simply because he was black.
* In the late 1990s, pre-recorded material he had taped at 2UE in Sydney was leaked to the ABC radio station Triple J. The selective tapes present Jones as egotistical, ill-tempered and fond of using bad language.
* His radio career survived a "cash for comment" scandal after he was accused of contracting to have personal commercial support in exchange for favourable "unscripted" comments, mainly for Telstra and Qantas, during his show.
Last December, in the lead-up to riots in Sydney's Cronulla, Jones read on air a widely circulated text message calling on people to "Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge ... get down to North Cronulla to support the Leb and wog bashing day."