Feeding frenzy

Opinion Article

1997 July, 15

Violent protests at One Nation rallies are backfiring. The winner frequently is Pauline Hanson

Australians probably are desensitised from seeing on television, mainly on SBS and the ABC, dramatic scenes of confrontation between right-wing racialist groups and left-wing anti-racialist groups both vehement and violent in Germany, France and elsewhere in Europe.

Swelling crowds, battalions of riot police, physical threats and violence are standard fare for overseas news reports. The hatred and urgency of these images always have seemed a world away.

Now these images accompany almost every news report on Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party. A fracas outside a Hanson meeting, however tame compared with equivalent European confrontations, is mostly now the only reason for there to be any news focus on Hanson. Hanson's minder, David Ettridge, has said as much.

The commercial television stations which mostly ignore overseas demonstrations and clashes of much greater dimension and seriousness are fed with good television. They rub their tabloid hands in glee.

It is time to say that the Hanson protesters have provided enough good television for Channels Seven, Nine and Ten. All good things must come to an end. The protesters must stop giving these media organisations lazy television news.

And the way to do it is to stop protesting at Hanson's meetings. The commercial television stations soon will stop sending cameras (they don't send journalists, they just send a camera with a blood sports commentator attached) to One Nation meetings if there are no protesters.

For those concerned about the way in which the media has fed off the Hanson phenomenon, why do we insist on feeding its appetite for conflict? Why do those concerned with the growth of racism and intolerance in our society which undoubtedly has occurred and should be of grave concern to Australians organise these Hanson protests and therefore give the forces of hate and bigotry a free media kick?

If it is to draw public attention to the voices of tolerance and human solidarity among Australians of goodwill, then clearly the strategy is not working. The message of tolerance, understanding and respect does not shine through. In fact, I fear that Hanson frequently wins on a PR points count.

This is not to say that rallies and indeed protests against racism are not to be supported. All that I am saying is that those opposed to racism should understand that Hanson is not the main game. I previously have argued in this paper that Prime Minister John Howard is the main game. It is he who holds to key to racial harmony and disharmony, social cohesion and division. And the national atmosphere is only as acrid as his leadership has tended to promote.

The cardigan-clad old churchgoers who turn up to One Nation meetings, many no doubt from my own and Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Lutheran church, always have believed the things in Hanson's manifesto. The Bible's prescription that all men be equal before God matters nought for them, never has and likely never will.

My church is not a broad church, it is a narrow one stuck hard to the Right with a small black fringe incongruously hanging off its Left flank.

Recently a young man from my hometown, who is a member of the local St John's church council, pointed out to me that many of the people flocking to Hanson meetings are likely to be ``our mission friends'' from the Lutheran strongholds of Kingaroy, Gatton and Ipswich. He was dismayed and felt his enthusiasm for his common identity with a church that was part of his history extending for more than 111 years back to 1886 was being betrayed. He asked me: ``How can we be members of the same church as these people? A church that speaks of goodwill, forbearance, love, respect, tolerance, understanding and grace?''

The church has the best chance of persuading these people of their errors. If the pastors and elders in my church woke up from their moral torpor and took a stand for Christ's sake then peace might have a chance in the rural communities where xenophobia is virulent. From long experience of a church exceptional in its ability to deny its responsibility for social justice and racial equality, I know that the enduring faith of my home-town friend, in our church and too many of its members, is likely to continue to be misplaced.

Feeding frenzy