Media focus on anti-Hanson rallies
By Jim Green
Anti-Hanson, anti-racist protests — in particular the secondary school walkouts organised by Resistance — have received a deluge of media attention in recent weeks.
Nowhere has this been more than in Sydney, following an anti-racism rally on July 2 which resulted in police violence and the detention of five people after a brief occupation of John Howard's office.
In general, establishment media reporting on radical politics is notable for its absence. When radical groups such as Resistance are mentioned, it is usually as part of an "angry mob" at a rally or in the context of ignorant ravings by right-wing columnists.
But in recent weeks, there has been a deluge of more objective coverage of anti-Hanson protests, most of it acknowledging the important role of Resistance and the Democratic Socialist Party in the anti-racist movement.
Of course, the establishment's key conservative propagandists have not remained silent. Padraic P. McGuinness, in the July 9 Sydney Morning Herald, attacks Resistance and other (unnamed) "radical groups" with all the vitriol, guilt-by-association cliches and stereotypes he can muster: "tiny sectarian Left groups left over from Trotskyism", "dedicated fanatics", "authoritarian", "left fascism", "goon squads and provocateurs", "political correctness", "anti-democratic and totally cynical about the rights of minorities of whom they disapprove".
McGuinness finishes by suggesting that ASIO "ought to be keeping close tabs on extremists on all sides of the current controversies", though he probably didn't really mean to include himself.
Piers Akerman also had a spray in his column in the July 9 Daily Telegraph. Akerman says the students at the July 2 rally "were photographed carrying placards thoughtfully provided for them by one of the worst of the fringe Left groups, Resistance". He also blames school teachers who, he claims, "have notoriously misinformed young people about numerous issues, the environment, ecology and nuclear energy in particular".
The day before the July 24 national secondary student walkout, Akerman was at it again, in his own special way: "The thoroughly repugnant and manipulative socialist youth organisation Resistance will again attempt to excite guileless students tomorrow with another trumped up demonstration against racism."
The ugliest aspect of the media coverage occurred during an interview of Kieran Barley, a secondary school student and Resistance member in Sydney, by Stan Zamenek, a radio 2UE shock-jock. A caller, who identified himself as "Ross", threatened to show up at the anti-racism rally on July 24 and assault Barley. Ross was allowed to abuse Barley for some time before eventually being interrupted.
Akerman's ravings in the Daily Telegraph were in part a response to an article the day before by Maralyn Parker, a former secondary school principal turned columnist. "The spectacle of school children marching on John Howard's office last week has to be the most encouraging and inspirational educational event we have seen for a long time", she wrote.
"The school children who marched, listened to fiery political speeches, were manhandled by police and arrested, or saw their friends arrested, and then faced the ensuing media frenzy probably learned more in one day than they could learn in a term of lessons", Parker added.
This sympathetic coverage was just one example among many. The July 2 protest received front-page coverage in both the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald, an article in the Sun Herald, coverage on nearly all of the television news programs, and stories on A Current Affair and Today Tonight.
In the aftermath of that protest, Resistance members in Sydney had the pleasure of watching Channel Nine news guru Peter Harvey, who was kept waiting for half an hour by high school interviewees, occupying himself by browsing Marxist classics in the Resistance Bookshop.
While the initial media frenzy subsided, there was a steady flow of coverage on television, radio and in the papers for the next fortnight.
Melbourne papers, especially the suburban papers, gave significant coverage to anti-racism protests organised by the DSP and Resistance, and activists in other cities have reported generally positive media coverage.
In fact, the word has spread as far as Malaysia. Two Sydney DSP members arrived in Malaysia on July 3 to find a photo of the July 2 protest in the widely read New Straits Times.
Education bureaucrats were trotted out once or twice, threatening to punish school children for truancy. The president of the Australian Family Association wondered in the Australian whether youth are freely expressing their views or whether "there are other people using them to express their views". Both Pauline Hanson and her minder David Oldfield were given plenty of air-time to express their concerns about the "Cuba-loving young communists in Resistance manipulating our kids".
But more coverage has been given to teachers and parents who supported the protests. For example, Kieran Barley, from Sydney Resistance, appeared on Today Tonight with his mother, Susan Barley, and the front page of the July 3 Telegraph featured a photo of 14-year-old Ben Riley being arrested at the July 2 rally and his mother stating, "Good on him. I would be demonstrating too if I had known it was against Pauline Hanson."
School students, too, were given plenty of opportunities to have their say, and they made the most of it. Emma To, a secondary school Resistance member, told the Village Voice, a local Sydney paper, "This idea that [the July 2 rally] was organised by adults and manipulating school children is totally wrong. I feel the kids who were manipulated were the ones who weren't allowed to go to the protest."
To also set the record straight: "The police over-reacted. It was planned to be a peaceful protest and nothing really went wrong until they turned up. We left [Howard's office] when we were asked to and we were on our way out when I saw these two kids being pushed up against a wall. One of the girls who was arrested was actually trying to get everyone on to the pavement so we wouldn't get in trouble. I saw the police slam her head against a paddy wagon."
To's comments expose for the rubbish they are McGuinness' claims that "radical groups" often provoke police violence and that "it used to be common for middle-class girls to make sexual comments or even spit in their faces in order to make the younger police lose control".
There have also been numerous letters to the editors of various papers commenting on any unfavourable media coverage. A. Crawford and A. Sampson dealt with some of the paternalistic reporting arising from the July 2 eviction of protesters from Howard's office in a letter to the SMH:
"Imagine the uproar if the voices of the pensioner lobby, or the heritage groups, had been stifled in such a way, and then trivialised and infantilised by the various media. We're young, and we're very, very angry. Howard, Hanson et al, take note, for once. When we can vote, we'll do our best to make you feel unsafe, insecure, and unstable, just like you've made us feel."
Some of the coverage even went publicised further protest actions. The ABC news reporter covering the July 2 action, for example, signed off with: "One thing's for sure, [the] police violence ... will certainly help to build the next event, a national high-school walkout on July 24."
Changing their spots?
Does all the positive media coverage of anti-racism youth protests indicate that the leopard has changed its spots? Not likely.
The police violence in Sydney was a significant spur to this coverage, which, by expressing outrage, could sell more papers. For example, a huge front-page headline on the Daily Telegraph after the July 2 rally screamed: "He's just a kid: Arrested at 14 for protesting against Hanson".
The timing was also important. On July 9, ABC Radio National's Media Report dealt with media reporting of Hanson, demonstrating that much of the media turned sharply against Hanson in late June and early July.
This was clearest in News Ltd's papers. In the Australian, pro-Hanson headlines such as "Piper at the gates of a new era" gave way to attacks under headlines such as "Politics in turmoil: One Nation starts to crack". (News Ltd has, however, hedged its bets, with Brisbane's Courier-Mail continuing to take a soft line on Hanson, reflecting her popularity in Queensland.)
It is difficult to determine cause-and-effect in the about-face of the media, and whether the upsurge of anti-racist protests was to any degree responsible.
Broadly speaking, however, the schizophrenic treatment of Hanson and anti-racism protesters by the capitalist media over the last year and a half reflects the position of the capitalist class: under attack from the left by an upsurge of anger and anti-racist mobilisations, and from the right by the Hanson juggernaut.
There is the complex relationship — at the same time compatible and competitive — between Hanson's racism and the "respectable" racism of the big business parties and their capitalist bosses.
Hanson has provoked high-profile anti-racism protests of various sorts, many of which have alerted people to the culpability of the "respectable" racists. This poses a problem for the capitalists: they want to make use of Hanson's racist push to force the political pendulum even further to the right and pave the way for greater attacks on working people and oppressed groups, but they also need to keep Hanson's popularity on a leash so it does not threaten their own parties of government.
In this context, the appeal for the capitalist media of using secondary students to help put Hanson back in her place after One Nation's success in the Queensland election is obvious.
Their dilemma now, however, is that in doing so they are helping the anti-racism youth movement to take off — and it's not targeting just Hanson. In the words of Sydney high school Resistance member Lara Thoms, broadcast on TV news on July 25, "We won't stop protesting against racism until Hanson and Howard have gone".
[Green Left Weekly would like to keep tabs on the media's treatment of the anti-racism movement. If you come across anything that might be of interest, please let us know.