It’s Too Late Now: The Time For ‘Sunrise’ To Reject Pauline Hanson Was Years Ago

Sunrise has given Pauline Hanson a platform for years. It can't pretend to be shocked now.

Pauline Hanson and David Koch on Sunrise

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It apparently took the cold-blooded murder of at least 50 innocent Muslims for David Koch to wake up and realise that Pauline Hanson — his regular guest on Sunrise — might have contributed to a culture of anti-Islamic prejudice in Australia and, by extension, New Zealand.

Speaking to Hanson this morning, Kochie explicitly linked Hanson’s views to the manifesto written by the accused Christchurch shooter.

“This terrorist manifesto almost reads like One Nation’s immigration and Muslim policy.  Do you, in any way, feel complicit with this atrocity?” Kochie asked. “The anti-Muslim rhetoric that you espouse constantly here, that you did in your maiden speech when you came to parliament in 2016. Do you understand?”

As you’d expect, Hanson disagreed, saying she sympathised with the victims, before trotting out the usual far-right talking points about Muslims taking over the streets of London and Sweden.

Hanson’s talking points are lies. They were lies this morning, just like they were lies every other time she has spouted them on the national platform afforded to her by David Koch and the rest of the team at Sunrise. They’ve been lies ever since Sunrise began using Hanson as a regular — paid — contributor on the show before the 2016 election.

Hanson’s views are no secret, they’ve been a known quantity in Australian politics for 23 years. In her maiden speech to Parliament in 2016 she said Australia risked being “swamped by Muslims”. Those comments were merely an echo of her first maiden speech in 1998 — just swap “Muslims” for “Asians”. In 2017, she mocked Muslims by wearing a burqa into the Senate. In 2018, she moved a motion (with the Coalition government’s support) giving voice to a white supremacist slogan. Just last week, she announced a racist policy to genetically test Indigenous Australians seeking welfare. All of these incidents were covered by Channel 7 and Sunrise in great detail.

The events of last Friday didn’t change anything material about the Sunrise-Hanson relationship. What has changed is the level of scrutiny directed at large media organisations that offer her an uncritical platform.

When asked why Sunrise continues to give Hanson a platform, the show’s executive producer, Michael Pell, told me he wants viewers to “make up their own minds” after being presented with “both sides” of the story.

“It’s important to note Pauline Hanson does not appear on Sunrise unchecked. Pauline has always been paired on-air with someone from the other side of the political spectrum to provide balance, in this case, Derryn [Hinch],” Pell said. “When necessary, the Sunrise hosts have taken her on, as David did this morning. We always hold our politicians to account and Pauline Hanson is no different.”

The events of last Friday didn’t change anything material about the Sunrise-Hanson relationship. What has changed is the level of scrutiny directed at large media organisations that offer her an uncritical platform.

Setting aside the fact that Derryn Hinch could hardly be called a progressive, does anyone really believe there are “two sides” to this debate? Pauline Hanson doesn’t represent a ‘side’, she’s a fringe-dweller who has been plucked from the far-right and gently placed in the centre of the political debate by Pell and his team.

There aren’t ‘two sides’ to racism. There is right and wrong. Hanson obviously has a right to her views, but Sunrise has no obligation to give her a platform. Every time Hanson appears on Sunrise, she’s given a chance to spread her vile views to the beating heart of middle Australia.

Pell may believe he’s holding Hanson to account, but in reality he is doing her dirty work for her. Like most of the far-right, Hanson’s support coalesces online, especially on Facebook. Every Hanson appearance can be tailored to suit One Nation’s message and feed the social media echo chamber keeps her support base thriving.

If you don’t believe me, look at the way Hanson’s team has already turned this morning’s Sunrise appearance into a meme, portraying her as a victim fighting for the rights of ordinary Australians. Sunrise created this.

Why Was Hanson On ‘Sunrise’ At All?

There was a segment on the ABC’s satirical breakfast show, Get Krack!n last week that perfectly summed up why shows like Sunrise continue to feature people like Hanson.

The segment was called ‘Kunts For Klicks’, and it featured a suite of archetypal breakfast TV characters, who spouted horrific views about women and, ironically, Muslims.

Get Krack!n host Kate McLennan was quick to point out that these aren’t views that she or her co-host Kate McCartney necessarily share — “But they’re definitely opinions that we are 100 percent complicit in broadcasting and that, in time, we will go to hell for.”

It’s a perfect encapsulation of the logic behind breakfast TV, which gets low ratings compared to prime time, but which receives outsized attention from network executives who are obsessed with ‘winning’ each day.

The logic goes that when Middle Australia Mum is getting the kids ready for school every morning, she chooses a show — usually either Sunrise or Today — to keep on in the background. As she rushes the kids out the door, MAM turns the TV off. When she returns home at the end of a long day, she flicks the TV back on. Too tired to lift her arm and change the channel, MAM is now stuck on Channel 7 or 9, forced to endure the likes of either My Kitchen Rules or Married At First Sight. And just like that, one of the big networks wins the ratings for the night. This is why the networks freak out when their breakfast TV ratings start to slide.

Pauline Hanson is the personification of this logic. Like Sunrise, she’s not actually that powerful on her own. But she commands outsized attention. She is as loved by her supporters as she is hated by her detractors — and everything she says can be packaged up into an easily shareable clip on social media, just like the one posted above. Those likes and shares, whether driven by love or hate, turn into online traffic (including for Junkee) and TV ratings, which turn into piles of money for the big networks.

This morning, Sunrise had its first chance to react to the horrific events in New Zealand on Friday afternoon. Like every other day, they had a choice about what to put to air. Breakfast TV often does a great job in situations like this, whether it’s a terror attack or a natural disaster. They meet victims and put a human face to tragedy. At its best, it can be deeply moving. At its worst, it’s exploitative, ratings-driven, trash.

Sunrise could have chosen any number of politicians to speak to this morning. Pell says he asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor’s Penny Wong to appear, but both declined. Perhaps a more sensible next step would have been to ask any of the three Muslim MPs who currently sit in the Parliament to speak of their experiences. But Sunrise chose Pauline Hanson.

Pauline Hanson Gave Us Fraser Anning

There’s an idea doing the rounds at the moment that Fraser Anning — who appalled the world by linking the Christchurch shooting to New Zealand’s immigration policy — should be ignored because he only got 19 first preference votes at the 2016 election.

But it’s also true that Anning is in the Senate because the party that he once belonged to — One Nation — received 250,000 votes in Queensland at the same election. Anning joined the Senate when Malcolm Roberts (who himself only received 77 votes), was disqualified under Section 44 of the Constitution. As the next person on One Nation’s ticket, Anning took Roberts’ seat, and immediately quit the party to sit as an Independent.

Anning and Hanson’s political divorce didn’t come because of some great philosophical parting of the ways. Hanson didn’t suddenly discover Anning’s views and cast him aside in horror. Like all of Hanson’s failed political relationships, this breakdown was about personalities, not policies.

There can be little doubt after his effort over the weekend that Fraser Anning is a terrible human being, but he didn’t occur in a vacuum. There’s a direct line between Pauline Hanson and Fraser Anning. She recruited him, she endorsed him and she’s responsible for his place in the Senate.

Similarly, Sunrise and Channel 7 have to take some responsibility for rehabilitating Pauline Hanson.

Hanson could easily have been an aberration in Australian politics, a one-termer who existed only on the edges of our public life. After losing office in 1998, she made several attempts to re-enter politics at state and federal level. She failed each time, before taking a new career direction in 2004.

Suddenly, she was Australia’s TV sweetheart, dancing the cha cha on Channel 7’s Dancing With The Stars and washing cars in her undies on Nine’s Celebrity Apprentice. Next it was Who Wants To be A Millionaire? and This Is Your Life. There were humanising interviews on 60 Minutes, and glossy magazine spreads about her new hair colour. Then came the big one, a regular spot on the launching pad for Australian political careers  Sunrise.

All of this all kept Hanson in the public eye until the right combination of widespread apathy with the major parties and a double dissolution election allowed her to return to the centre of Australian politics — this time with a posse of unsavoury grifters at her side, including the worst of them all, Fraser Anning.

And for the last three years, Sunrise has been there through it all — through the speeches, the burqas, and the ‘it’s ok to be white’ motions. At times the show has called her out, but they’ve never been appalled enough to stop giving her a platform. It’s an option they’ve always had, but seemingly will never exercise.

By all means, call out Hanson’s platform for what it is — a garbage-fire of barely-thought-out racist one-liners — but don’t pretend that you didn’t hand her the matches.

Rob Stott is Junkee Media’s Managing Editor. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_Stott