One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt yesterday did exactly what she wanted — cut through a wild week of news and politics. Hanson’s stunt prompted a passionate speech from Attorney-General George Brandis, and politicians united in their condemnation of Hanson.
Within minutes of Hanson’s appearance in the Senate chamber, journalists and photographers were tweeting from the gallery, Sky News brought in a counter-terrorism expert to discuss Brandis’ speech who said such mockery could fuel terrorism, and Hanson was booked in for appearances on 2GB and Paul Murray Live. All the TV news bulletins carried the story, and all the metropolitan and national newspapers today carried the story on their front pages as a pointer, if not as the main story. Hobart’s The Mercury was the only capital city daily not to have any mention of the story on its front page. Even the NT News, known for ignoring big national stories in favour of crocodiles and other quirky yarns, had a front-page pointer, with picture, to the story.
Banning the burqa was not part of the national conversation yesterday morning, but after Hanson’s stunt, it well and truly is now.
Political marketing strategist Toby Ralph said Brandis’ response had only fueled more coverage: “Ms Hanson exercised her right to be a bigot again yesterday, and was slapped down magnificently by the oft-maligned George Brandis. But while most of Australia cheered the wonderful rebuke from Brandis, sadly it is likely to increase coverage of and sympathy for her position from her target audience of dim xenophobes.”
Centre for Advancing Journalism senior research fellow Denis Muller said the media couldn’t ignore Hanson, and provided the context and opposition to her position was included, the media should report on it: “She’s a public figure, she’s a senator, she’s in the Senate, she’s in Parliament. The media can’t ignore that, and yes, it’s a stunt and it’s sure to get plenty of publicity, but publicity of what kind? So long as the media report (the condemnation) as well, I think they’ve done what they can do.”
Muller says that the public interest in the matter overrides the censorship that would be involved in ignoring Hanson. “There is a public interest in knowing what a member of the Parliament is doing,” he said. “I don’t see how you could fail to give the public interest more weight than the argument about denying oxygen.”