Fascist Blair Cottrell (centre) standing in front of the Melbourne Magistrates Court
Sky News’ decision to provide an uncritical platform for violent racist and convicted criminal Blair Cottrell yesterday, and its legitimisation of him as an “activist”, not merely continues the pay TV outlet’s love affair with far-right extremists but will deeply concern Australia’s security and intelligence agencies.
ASIO’s Duncan Lewis has repeatedly warned of the growing threat of right-wing extremism in recent years. Sky News’ attempt to mainstream the criminal Cottrell — now disavowed by the channel, but only after a massive backlash on social media — will only add to concerns that the media is too eager to give a platform to voices of hatred in an effort to juice weakening ratings. In January, the Seven Network, which like Sky News has a history of pandering to bigots, gave Cottrell a platform to speak on “African gangs” and similarly tried to legitimise him as a member of a community group.
Cottrell has used social media to call for the “execution” of “leftists” and boasted of “manipulating women using violence and terror”. Sky News had invited him on to discuss immigration with former Country Liberal Northern Territory chief minister Adam Giles. Apart from Sky’s small, elderly white male audience, Cottrell’s views were broadcast into airport lounges across the country courtesy of Sky’s relationships with Qantas and Virgin.
As Crikey noted last week, Sky News has a stable of far-right commentators and presenters who seek to outdo each other in provoking outrage in order to distinguish themselves in a program line-up that is otherwise almost uniformly reactionary. Sky has a regular turnover of presenters and program line-ups, increasing the pressure on low-profile performers like Giles to up the outrage and encourage ever more extreme views. The implications for national security of this promotion of racism and, in yesterday’s case, the legitimisation of advocates of violence, will be concerning for the agencies charged with preventing extremist violence.