How to sell a television documentary: Al Jazeera, One Nation and media ethics

March 27, 2019

Like many people I was fascinated by Al Jazeera’s investigation, “How to sell a massacre“, into the relationship between Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the American gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 12.06.17 pm

The story broke in Australia with several teasers from the Al Jazeera program, which is screening in two parts. As I am writing this on Wednesday 27 March 2019, the second installment is not available in Australia via the Al Jazeera website, so my comments are qualified by the disclosure that I’ve only seen part 1.

Never-the-less, as one of the unwitting ‘stars’ of the documentary.PHON fixer James Ashby claimed, a shit storm would erupted if news of his visit to Washington DC ever became public.

Indeed it has. PHON chief strategist and Hanson’s latest Svengali (or perhaps Rasputin), James Ashby, has been anxiously trying to play down the significance of the revelations in the Al Jazeera film.

It is important to nail down exactly what these revelations are, or could be, because the investigation has also raised a number of important questions and issues about journalism ethics.

Does “How to sell a massacre” pass the public interest test?

Public interest here is the key. We’re not just talking about the voyeur’s delight we might feel in watching two PHON honchos make total fuckwits of themselves. Sure, there is pleasure in that, but it is not a strong enough justification for the deception that was perpetrated in the name of pubic interest and disclosure.

In particular, when is an undercover sting operation, like the one at the centre of this story, justified by the public interest in getting “facts” out into the public domain. Read the rest of this entry »