It's important that we hear a diversity of views on the Paris attacks – but not now, and not like this.
I’m a strong advocate for a suspension of the usual cynicism and hyper-analysis that dominates discourse online in the aftermath of brutal, tragic events like the terrorist attacks in Paris over the weekend.
I may have my own views about the media’s coverage of the Paris attacks compared to the column inches devoted to the bombings in Beirut last week, or even the Peshawar school massacre last year, but in the hours following a major terrorist attack, I think everyone would be better off reading and listening rather than hyperventilating and debating.
We all know different media organisations have their own particular biases whether they are explicitly political or more subtly driven by the necessity of attracting viewers and revenues. But faced with international tragedy we put our personal views and preferences aside in order to simply better understand what the hell is going on. We suspend cynicism.
Less than 24 hours after the attacks in Paris I was reminded how naïve that stance is. Particular media organisations, through their almost immediate deployment of far-right politician Pauline Hanson, emerged as the biggest cynics of all. We took them at face value and they mugged us.
Hanson was wheeled out as a commentator on Channel 9’s Today show on Sunday and Channel 7’s Sunrise this morning. She was provided an unchallenged platform to discuss her calls for a “Royal Commission into Islam” and an immediate suspension of all migration from Middle-Eastern and “Muslim” countries.
It’s hard to understand the platform afforded to Hanson as anything other than a cynical, desperate attempt to stir controversy and attract viewers. It seems to have worked — a short clip of her segment on the Today show has been viewed 2.3 million times on Facebook within 24 hours.
Hanson isn’t an expert on terrorism, international conflict or radicalisation. She’s a right-wing candidate for election adept at maximising the opportunities afforded to her by commercial networks keen to attract viewers in a contested marketplace. There is absolutely no public interest defence for the decision to provide someone with such appalling views a megaphone immediately following a terrorist attack.
Terrorism and radicalisation are serious issues that deserve to be analysed and publicly debated. But there was no debate on Today or Sunrise. It’s one thing to place Hanson’s view within a framework of pluralist political discussion, where a wide variety of perspectives and solutions can be argued. But that’s not what happened. The leader of the most successful, far-right political party in Australian history was allowed to spout her lazy, shallow, divisive and dangerous thoughts without challenge.
Australia is going to have a big national discussion about terrorism and radicalisation after the events in Paris. And it should. The fact that Australian born and raised citizens are being radicalised and joining Islamic State is a serious issue that needs to be responded too. But our response and our debate needs to be substantially more nuanced than whatever Hanson comes up with in her desperate bid to get elected to Parliament.
Some people may think there’s something ironic about the fact I hold such strong views about Hanson given I appeared alongside her on Channel 9’s “The Verdict” last week. In fact I think programs like The Verdict are exactly the right space to debate and challenge the nonsense Hanson comes up with (and it should also be noted she wasn’t invited to discuss her views on terrorism immediately after 130 people had lost their lives following a terrorist attack). I don’t believe opinions I disagree with should be deliberately censored by the media. Unfortunately, some of Hanson’s views are shared by the public. For that reason I think they need to be debated and challenged in public forums. But an uncritical broadcast platform doesn’t allow that — and the producers of Today and Sunrise know it.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Maybe the expectation that for a brief moment, division, hatred and cynicism could be suspended in order for us to react like humans was too big an ask. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do fully expect more networks to afford Hanson an uncritical platform over coming days and weeks. Any that do will have made it absolutely clear that their priority isn’t public interest journalism, but attracting controversy through the exploitation of rising tension and division within the community.