Analysis of the television coverage of the One Nation Party Adelaide launch
Media monitoring: based in Melbourne and including Channel Nine News 6pm , Seven Nightly News 6pm, ABC News 7pm , Ten News At Five 5pm and SBS World News 6:30pm.
On the 11th of June 1996, the One Nation Party launched a branch in Adelaide. All TV stations covered the event the next day with the exception of Channel Seven which appeared to have given priority to the theft of parrots from the Melbourne Zoo and to the story of a footballer having squeezed the testicles of another during a match. Selecting news is all about priorities and Channel Seven never misses an opportunity to show where its priorities are.
The commercial stations, and to some extent the ABC, all merged a story on Asian tourism with the launch of the branch. On Channel Nine, the launch of One Nation was a side issue - only about 10% of the report dealt with it. Merging reports and mixing issues have been distinctive features in the manner the Australian media have covered Pauline Hanson and One Nation. There has been a deliberate and systematic policy of drowning straight Hanson coverage with peripheral and often non-related issues. This gives propaganda a bad name. Although SBS did not associate the Adelaide launch of One Nation with a drop in tourism from Asia, a large chunk of the story was about the alleged violent behaviour of right-wing extremists attending the meeting.
Here are some of the tourism-related claims made on Channel Ten and Channel Nine:
"…Pauline Hanson will ruin Australia’s reputation overseas."
"…billions of dollars will be lost…" (Channel Ten)
"Tourism leaders have blamed Pauline Hanson for a reduction in the number of Asian visitors coming here." "…damage to our friendly image has caused many, especially the Japanese to shy away." (Channel Nine)
To indicate, as did Channel Ten, that income from tourism will be lost requires, one would assume, at least a downward trend in actual numbers of tourists entering the country. Tourism in Australia is worth around 16 billion a year. The claim that "billions" will be lost requires an actual drop of at least 12.5%. (Here is the logic: the plural of billion means at least 2, and that represents 12.5% of the income of 16 billions per year.) In its report, Channel Nine establishes a direct link between the damage to Australia’s image (caused by Pauline Hanson) and a drop in the number of Japanese visitors.
None of this is true and the outrageous claims made by both Channel Nine and Channel Ten are complete fabrications. The claims are disproved by the very figures the Australian Tourism Commission quoted during the conference.
To start with, the figures used to produce this propaganda are not actual figures but a projection. They don’t forecast a drop in the actual numbers of visitors but instead, they predict a reduced increase. The figures at the heart of this gigantic deception adjust the previously forecast 11.8% increase in international visitors to a revised 7.3%. The truth is that more international visitors will visit Australia, not less.
To add insult to injury, the fastest growth is forecast to be from Asian countries, the very countries Channel Nine and Ten suggested were affected by Pauline Hanson’s views. And if that wasn’t bad enough, John Morse, the head of the tourism commission specifically denied at the time the figures were made public that Pauline Hanson’s political views were responsible for the slide in the forecast. Despite his clear-cut statement, both Nine and Ten went to air the same day with lies.
We are once again reminded of the media’s pathetic history in handling statistics. Basically, they can make any figure say absolutely anything.
Using the numbers quoted by Channel Nine , the drop in the Japanese tourism forecast is only about 6%. Is there anything wildly unusual about adjusting a forecast by 6%?
In researching this article, I stumbled over a couple more facts I feel are relevant to the claims made by the some of the TV stations. In Japan, the media coverage of Pauline Hanson, the "race debate" and the One Nation Party is close to nil. To suggest that negative publicity may be responsible is an outright lie. A downturn in the Japanese economy is widely accepted as being the cause for the drop in the number of people venturing overseas on holidays. Experts in Europe are also predicting a similar downward trend thus putting to rest the convenient theory the anticipated drop has anything to do with Australia and Pauline Hanson.
In South Korea, Pauline Hanson has received a much wider negative media coverage than in any other Asian nation. It is interesting to note that South Koreans are now visiting Australia in record numbers. Malaysian Airlines has also just increased its number of flights to Australia. Why doesn’t the media use these facts to demonstrate that Pauline Hanson is having a beneficial effect on tourism from Asia?
The news reports that associated Hanson and a drop in Asian tourism had one thing common: the lack of input from Asian leaders. The viewer never sees any Asian representative saying that Pauline Hanson is having a damaging effect on Australia’s relations or trade with Asia. Unwarranted extrapolations and bogus figures are the only signs Australia’s relationship with Asia is any different than a year or two ago.
When it comes to One Nation meetings, the media’s vision can become blurred by bias and the need for expediency. Clearly, and for some time, there has been an issue begging for some coverage. This issue is one close to the heart of all journalists: free-speech. It doesn’t usually take much to spark some media fury over free-speech, particularly when it is under threat. Amazingly, when Pauline Hanson is involved, the media lose their capacity to do what they think they exist for: fight real injustice and real prejudice.Channel Ten and SBS described the arrival of the people to the One Nation meeting as "running the gauntlet." This used to be a military punishment involving being hit while passing between two rows of people. It describe fairly what those who wished to attend the meeting (and other One Nation meetings elsewhere) had to endure. Many who were outside the building that night report a significant number of incidents where protesters had their hair pulled or were even punched on the head as they made their way through the gauntlet. Verbal assaults were common but strangely, none made the news. It really is cause for alarm when the media stops doing their job because they don’t like the interests that would benefit from a fair coverage. It would be cause for greater concern if the police who filmed everything from adjacent buildings decided not to charge anyone.
The signs protesters were holding said "smash Hanson" in large letters. The slogan gives an indication of the aggressive intentions of the organisers at the time the banners were printed, that is well before the protest started.
Two words "Socialist Worker" down the bottom of the signs caugh my attention. Socialist Worker is the newspaper of the International Socialist Organisation. By not identifying the stirrers behind the protesters, the media convey the false impression the protest is more or less a spontaneous public demonstration of outrage. Publicity-seeking organisations know how to get on the Hanson bandwagon. They seek media exposure and "a la Greenpeace" turn up with professional protesters who lead the others. It is fair game for them to get their publicity wherever they can, but the media have an ethical obligation not to withhold relevant facts. Trade unions resources are also involved in some of the anti-Hanson demonstrations. The public has the right to know that as well. Rather than pontificate on far-fetched theories, journalists would be better off applying my four Ws rule (Who's doing What to Whom and Why?).
The peaceful 8000 strong demonstration in support of multiculturalism was used as a contrasting point with the Hanson rally. SBS and the ABC made clever use of the facts and associated Hanson with turmoil while multiculturalism was constantly referred to as "peaceful". In fact, in both ABC and SBS introductions, the two events were put side by side.
Some of the language in the ABC script was particularly deceitful. It is a fine line between saying "the supporters fought their way into the meeting" and "the protesters were attacked." This euphemistic approach diminishes the responsibility of the protesters, some of whom behaved like thugs.
Samantha Maiden’s suggestion that "outside, protesters scuffled with police, some collapsing in the crush of bodies" stirs the viewer’s sympathy in the wrong direction. Although some protesters were caught in the crush, the victims that night were largely the people who attended the meeting, some were even thrown to the ground. In a short report, capturing the gist of the situation must be the priority. Certainly in this case, the core of the situation was the physical and verbal assaults the people who attended the meeting had to endure. Also, by not clearly attributing the throwing of eggs and punches to the protesters, Samantha Maiden left it open for the viewers to believe the people who attended the meeting may have been throwing them. To indicate that protesters scuffled with police is an attempt to take the focus away from the fact the protesters were attacking the people who were walking towards the building.
Nelson who was present at the meeting describes the incident:
"The funniest part came just after the Hansonites accused the mob of being professional protesters, not that any of them denied it. One of the feral latecomers turned up, and was overheard complaining that he had brought the wrong banner: his banner said "Save the ABC". The Hansonites laughed themselves silly. The absent minded feral held up his banner anyway, and got some of his mates to join in chanting 'Save the ABC'.
To say the news missed the story is not exactly true. They decided not to report it. For them not to put to air an odd and funny bit is very untypical.
The Channel Ten report introduction simply does not add up. How could Pauline Hanson be blamed when the violent protests are instigated by her opponents? A simple substitution restores the factual integrity of the situation: "The tourism commission fears anti-Hanson protesters will ruin Australia’s reputation overseas. It says billions of tourist dollars will be lost if violent protests continue across the nation." Unfortunately, this would lead to a totally different report, wouldn’t it?
Not to identify the source or context of sound bites is sloppy work. The case of a lady featured on the ten news is a good example. Is the lady ashamed of the people who attended the rally because they are a threat to democracy or is she ashamed of the protesters because they interfere with the democratic rights of others? The viewer can interpret such statements freely to suit his/her own beliefs and prejudices. One buck each way, the audience is not offended and the advertisers are happy. In the same report, there is another example with a comment made by John Morse . Out of context, the non-specific statement could be about the protesters.
The Channel Nine report included a short comment by former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke. That section of the report is interesting in that neither Mr Hawke nor the introduction to his comments should, if taken literally, lead the audience to believe Mrs Hanson has had a negative impact on China. Note that there is only a mention of "impact" in his comment. However, because this section is introduced in a largely negative (ie anti-Hanson) context, this is what the people watching the report would understand. This neat trick is regularly used in TV news and demonstrates the importance of context in the communication of news to an audience.
The estimate of 1000 protesters is an exaggeration. Admittedly, it is not as good as the 1500 claimed in The Age newspaper. Non-media reports have put the total number of protesters at around half the number of those who attended the meeting. In any case, it seems the source of confusion comes from the people who could not get into the packed hall and may have been counted as protesters. There was also a significant discrepancy between the 800 people launch crowd estimate given by SBS and the 600 reported by Ten and the ABC. These days, I don’t know how so-called journalists get crowd figures so wrong. It seems very obvious that the crowd inside the building must be at least equal to the capacity of the hall since police were turning people away in large numbers. I understand the hall could seat 800 and there was a significant number of people standing up. In any case, you do not need to be Einstein to work out that more than 600 people turned up for the meeting.After checking a few sources, it seems there was a maximum of 500 protesters outside the building.
Bad media coverage is not new. What seems to have taken media observers by surprise is the extent to which the media are prepared to go to mislead the public. No democracy exists without fair public debate. There is more than enough evidence on the table to suggest the blatant lack of ethics in the media is slanting the debate on major issues in Australia today. It is getting to the point where people no longer know what the facts are and basically react on fears and prejudices. Considering this alarming state of affair, the Australian government must immediately order an inquiry into the media in general, and news sources, news values, lack of accountability and conflicts of interest in particular.