The key words are “these people”. As soon as Pauline Hanson starts a sentence with them, you know she’s about to say something racist.

The other certainty about Hanson saying something racist is that it will happen shortly after she opens her mouth.

Channel Nine knew that, when it chose to “interview” Hanson on Today about the radical lockdown of nine public housing blocks in Melbourne in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Ostensibly, host Allison Langdon was asking Hanson to comment on the draconian nature of the lockdown and whether it was a bit on the inhuman side. Hanson did not think so:

“A lot of these people [the residents] are from non-English speaking backgrounds, probably English is their second language, who haven’t adhered to the rules of social distancing. They all use a lot of the same laundry. So the fact is you’ve got to look at why they’re in that situation. Why has the government gone to this high-rise building and shut it down? Possibly because these people weren’t doing the right thing.”

Asked by Langdon whether she has a heart, Hanson doubled down:

“We’re got a lot of Victoria that’s been isolated because these people who cannot speak English don’t know what the hell to do and they’re actually–”

Hanson was interrupted at that point as Langdon queried why the locked-down residents’ language skills were at all relevant. That giving the senator the opening to mount the horse of “why should we put everything out in someone else’s language? When you come to Australia, you learn to speak English”, which she continued to ride until Langdon finally shut down the segment with the standard “gosh I did not see that coming!” facial expression of the TV host who has just been surprised — ambushed, even — by Hanson’s unexpected racism.

Naturally, Channel Nine expressed its dismay by immediately pumping the segment out on social media, with highlighted quotes and a “what do you think?” invitation to the public to pile on.

It took five more hours for Nine to go into rapid reverse, issuing a statement calling Hanson’s comments “ill-informed and divisive” and promising that she will no longer appearing on Today as a “regular contributor” (note the wriggle-room).

Fair enough, I’m sure it took everyone at least five hours to realise that what Hanson had said was racist bilge. The same five hours during which the constant retweeting and sharing of the segment added a mountain of advertising dollars into Nine’s “we’re all in this together” hands. Obviously, Nine will, as an act of contrition, be giving all of that money to the charities currently feeding the poor residents of the locked-down and freshly demonised blocks.

Hanson’s one-note specialty has always been the classic “othering” technique of common sense blame. Whatever the problem is, identify the “these people” you want to target and draw a simple line of cause and effect that ordinary Aussies can clearly see. Chuck in the coded language of bigotry as well as the exasperation of the good law-abiding citizen whose doing of the right thing is constantly undermined by the anti-social behaviour of people who don’t/can’t/won’t understand how “we” do things around here.

She didn’t have to draw breath before spewing out her venom at the inhabitants of the benighted towers. The switch was flicked seamlessly to race-baiting and off she went like a starving greyhound.

Hanson’s comments were racist, and quite likely in breach of the racial vilification prohibition in section 18C of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act.

Channel Nine is bound to comply with the FreeTV Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, clause 2.6.2 of which says that a broadcaster is not to put to air material like to “provoke or perpetuate … intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against a person or group of people because of age, colour, gender, national or ethnic origin, disability, race, religion or sexual preference”.

There is an exception for “fair comment” on matters of public interest, but Hanson has never made a fair comment in her public career.

There are no real consequences for a breach of the code. Anyone upset by Nine’s behaviour can complain to the network, and then to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which might flog Nine with a spring onion if it finds a breach.

As to whether we should have all not taken the bait and further amplified Hanson’s bile — given that that was what she and Nine wanted us to do — I’m sorry, but no. Racism is a cancer. It grows and metastasises whether it is exposed or ignored. It must be fought in the open.

It is essential that Hanson is called out as a malignant racist troll, because that is all she is. Those who share her racism will not be swayed, but many Australians are vulnerable to her simplistic, seductive othering as an easy target on which to fix their discontent.

It is also critical that we do not acquiesce in the media’s descent into click-bait platforming of divisive obscenity. Nine and Today have disgraced themselves, joining Seven and Sunrise in the gutter of racist enabling. 

Nine’s belated reversal, cynical as it was, means that all is not lost; it can be scared into better behaviour. But let’s be clear: when it trained its camera on Pauline Hanson, it knew what it was buying.