Tuesday, 16 January 2018

TV show stirs up hornet’s nest of feelings in the community

It had been going for some days but I decided to chronicle the story this morning. At 8.58am this morning, Jo White (@mediamum who has a PhD in human computer interaction from the University of Colorado, Boulder) tweeted: “This is the most disturbing thing I've seen today. Right wing ‘activists’ meeting and then promising to use social media to get other people (not police) to respond to ‘incidents’ referred to as an ‘African youth crime crisis’ - terminology created and perpetuated by media.” Her tweet quote-tweeted a tweet from Australia’s Channel Seven that had gone up at 6.03pm on Sunday 14 January:
7 News reporter @jodilee_7 has been granted exclusive access to a secret meeting organised by right wing activists in response to Melbourne's African youth crime crisis. #7News
The Channel Seven tweet had a video with it showing a TV segment that screened on that Sunday with reporter Jodi Lee describing a meeting by neo-Nazi groups that took place at a meeting place belonging to the United Patriots Front (UPF). The meeting had been called to discuss the issue of African gang violence in Melbourne that the conservative government had raised in the media two weeks ago. At that time, the prime minister had spoken publicly about the issue, as had the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton.

Men from different groups spoke to Channel Seven’s camera, including men from the UPF and the True Blue Crew. Lee reported that the men “are hoping to create a kind of Neighbourhood Watch” using social media “that will quickly let people know when an incident, a robbery, an attack in fact is occurring and hopefully send locals there to help protect residents”.

The original comments that had been made during the quiet Christmas period by conservative politicians eager to attack the Labor state government of Daniel Andrews, were bad enough. They had spawned, for example, the retaliatory #melbournebitesback hashtag on Twitter which people in the city used to post pictures of African food they had gone out to eat. Dutton had said that people in the city were too afraid to go out at night to eat at restaurants.

Then Channel Seven, eager to capitalise on the popularity of the subject, spruiked its “exclusive” story featuring members of white supremacist groups – what it called “right wing activists” – and Twitter once again went into overdrive, with people on the left attacking the TV station and tweeting to advertisers of the Australian Open tennis competition, which Channel Seven carried, saying that they would be boycotted.

There were plenty of examples of this on Twitter even two days after the Channel Seven story went to air. At around 8.45am on Tuesday 16 January, retired journalist Mike Carlton retweeted an image of a tweet by UPF activist Blair Cottrell, adding: ”Me oh my. Here’s @7NewsMelbourne’s ‘right wing activist.’” Blair’s tweet contained a survey on Twitter that questioned the media’s role in society. “What action should a government take to ensure fairer, more honest reporting from mainstream media journalists?” The most common response was “Execute the leftists” (see below).

Just after 9am on 16 January, Melbourne man Tim Politi retweeted a tweet that had gone up on 15 January from @2FBS:
Righto @Channel7 you promoted Hanson and now you are normalising Hate Groups. I am done. Any advertiser on 7 now joins by product banned list. Where possible I will not purchase your product. It is the only way I have of registering my disgust and Seven's blatant racism.
Sydney woman Joan Evatt retweeted a tweet at around the same time from Australian woman Melanie Coutts:
Hi @Coles We buy all our groceries from you. Now that money went to #channel7 glorifying nazis [sic], it looks like we're shopping elsewhere
At around the same time, Perth man Daniel Dowling retweeted a tweet that had gone up at 9.58am on 15 January from Richard Cooke, contributing editor for The Monthly magazine, that said, “Funny how endorsing Nazism is rarely seen as disrespecting the diggers who fought it.” There were 37 replies to this tweet, as well as 938 retweets and 1999 likes.

At #melbournebitesback, the hashtag set up in the wake of the original stories about politicians complaining about African gangs, @thealien_earth retweeted a tweet at around 9.37am on 16 January that had gone up at 7.55pm on 3 January from Netherlands-based woman @Lilly_learns, who is a slam poet and MA student, that said: 
Some facts: Research found that it’s actually African youth in West Melb. that are subjected to unwarranted harassment and racially profiled by the police. Maybe @PeterDutton_MP might try being informed by evidence?
The tweet contained a link to a PDF on the website http://www.westjustice.org.au that contained a 2009 report written by Bec Smith and Shane Reshide. In the executive summary, the authors note: “This report examines African young people’s experiences of policing practices across three regions of Melbourne: the City of Greater Dandenong, Flemington and Braybrook.”
African young people are over-policed in the regions of the study. This overpolicing is racialised. 
Police enforce particular notions of acceptable usage of public space. This results in police-youth conflict. 
Routine police harassment of African young people as well as police violence is either under-reported to the relevant oversight bodies, or these bodies are not adequately investigating these incidents, or both.
There were tweets as well from the extreme left-hand side of the highly polarised social graph the story provoked. @WittaTwitta from the Sunshine Coast had tweeted at 1.28pm on 15 January:
If people opposed to @Channel7 promoting 'exclusive' interviews with #neoNazis are prepared to monitor companies advertising on @Channel7 shows. Take notes and name them here until they withdraw their [money emoji] from @Channel7. #Boycotting is the next move. @Channel7 trashTV [shit and TV emojis]
The tweet was retweeted by @LadyPoop2 ataround 9.58am on the #auspol hashtag. And at 12.15pm on 15 January, @GeorgeBludger had tweeted: “For all your sevenazi news, nightly on @7NewsMelbourne.” The tweet came with an image:

The tweet was retweeted by Marion Groves, a Melbourne-based independent technical, academic and general editor, at 10.02am on 16 January.

At 12.49pm @redspactakells retweeted a tweet put up by @mnxmoosi at 2.15pm on 15 January that said: “Who inside @7NewsMelbourne is authorising this white nationalist recruitment drive? Because make no mistake, that's exactly what this is.” This tweet retweeted a tweet by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, saying, “.@jodilee_7 plus this. these aren't just your regular NIMBYs. these [are] white nationalists with a penchant for violence.” This tweet also contained an image from the Channel Seven TV segment attached to a tweet as an image from Antifascist Action Brisbane.

At 1.10pm on 16 January Melanie Coutts tweeted: “#Channel7 News boss defends neo-Nazi interview as 'newsworthy'.” The tweet came with a link to a story dated 16 January on Australian news outlet Crikey that said, “Seven News Melbourne’s news director Simon Pristel has defended a story and interview with neo-Nazi Blair Cottrell.” But the story also noted that the original tweet by journalist Jodi Lee had been deleted. Pristel defended the TV station, telling Fairfax Media that the story was “newsworthy”. 

Crikey journalist Emily Watkins wrote that the original report didn’t include any information about Cottrell’s criminal convictions. The story linked to a story on the website of Fairfax’s The Age that noted that, “Channel Seven has copped intense backlash after interviewing a convicted racist and arsonist for his thoughts on Victoria's so-called African gangs crisis.”

The Age story noted that Cottrell had spent time in prison for property damage, and that he had been “one of the first Victorians to be convicted under the state's new racial vilification laws”. The story linked to an earlier story in the newspaper dated 5 September 2017 that began:
Three far-right activists who staged a mock beheading in protest at plans to build a mosque have been found guilty, convicted and fined for a criminal offence under Victoria's racial vilification laws.
Crikey’s politics editor Bernard Keane weighed in on the subject on 16 January also, noting that the Channel Seven story had spawned another hashtag on Twitter (#7summerofnazis) that he said trended heavily. Keane also noted in his story that ASIO head Duncan Lewis was aware of the threat of violence from right-wing groups in the community. “Lewis’ remarks were directed at another neo-Nazi group, Reclaim Australia. But it is understood that UPF is on the radar police and intelligence agencies.”

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