At the ABC, Pantsdown and Proud of It

As Pauline Hanson’s return to Canberra became clear, the national broadcaster whipped up a faux ‘news’ story to promote its favourite academic drag queen’s sexist denigration of One Nation’s leader. The complaints department says this is a fair use of taxpayer money

“I will call out misogyny wherever I see it”
–  Julia Gillard, defending the mussel-averse Peter Slipper in Parliament by attacking Tony Abbott

pantsdownThe ABC complaints department chief, Denise Musto,  thought it was OK for the ABC to depict The Australian’s Chris Kenny raping a dog  under the caption “Chris ‘Dog Fucker’ Kenny”.[1]  No surprise, perhaps, to learn she also thinks it’s fine for the ABC to fawn on an LGBTI activist  Simon Hunt (left), the drag queen and academic who satirizes Pauline Hanson as “Pauline Pantsdown”. No surprise, either, that Hunt has been a University of New South Wales media lecturer for 15 years. [2]

On July 3, a day after the election, the ABC TV News website ran a story by ABC reporter Kristian Silva: “Election 2016: Will Pauline Pantsdown return after Pauline Hanson’s success in the Senate?”

Silva’s story was an industrial-strength beat-up that speculated  Hunt might or might not resurrect his Pauline Pantsdown sexual satires of Hanson, circa 1997-2000. [3]    These had involved the ABC itself heavily promoting two songs, Back Door Man and I Don’t Like It, which Hunt created by splicing Hanson voice clips. Based on Hunt’s non-response to the question, Silva and the ABC were able to post , and revel in, side-by-side pics of Hanson and her drag-queen simulacrum along with a YouTube of Hunt and I Don’t Like It.[4]

I complained to the ABC on July 4  as follows:

Baseless sexual innuendo about a woman politician by ABC news staff
:  This photo montage falsely implies that Ms Pauline Hanson is promiscuous or in other ways operates with “pants down”. There is no basis whatsoever for such a smear and for such disrespect to a female.

Could you please let me know what are the ABC guidelines on respectful treatment of females, especially avoidance of gratuitous references to sexual behaviour (in this case, also false). Can you also tell me whether the pic montage above complies with such ABC guidelines, and if not, what remedy you intend, and whether the ABC will make a public apology to this female politician.

On August 25 the ABC’s Musto replied, after apologizing for the delay:

High profile public figures such as politicians are frequently the target of satire.   As explained in the ABC News online story, in the late 1990s the satirical character Pauline Pantsdown achieved some popularity with the release of two satirical songs about Pauline Hanson.  There was some speculation in the Australian media on whether Simon Hunt, a media lecturer and LGBTI activist who created ‘Pauline Pantsdown’, would reprise the satirical character following Ms Hanson’s successful return to Canberra.

Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that the image was not in contravention of ABC editorial standards.  There was news value to this story, ABC News Online readers would recognise the satirical nature of image, and many would remember the character ‘Pauline Pantsdown’: they would not interpret the name of this character as  being a direct comment on the Ms Hanson’s sexual behaviour as you suggest. Nonetheless, please be assured that your concerns are noted.

Musto is arguing that the non-story had legitimate news value, that it was only satire, and “Pantsdown” has no sexual connotation (much as the assassin’s shout of  “Allahu Akhbar!” has no religious connotation).[5]

Musto’s boss and ABC supremo, Michelle Guthrie, is also a public figure, as is, say, ex-GG Quentin Bryce AC, ex-PM Julia Gillard and Labor MP Penny Wong. If it’s ABC-newsworthy for a drag queen to parody (or even  to consider parodying) Hanson as “Pauline Pantsdown”, is it also  ABC-newsworthy  if I, as an LGBTI activist, made up popular parodies about “Michelle Pantsdown”, “Quentin Pantsdown”, “Julia Pantsdown” and “Penny Pantsdown”?

Musto is being disingenuous to talk of “some speculation in the Australian media” about a return of the Pantsdown character, since the ABC’s July 3 story ran barely 24 hours after Hanson’s re-election was knowable. If there was indeed “some speculation” about a Pantsdown redux, Musto notably failed to provide a link that might support her bald assertion. Without that evidence, one is left with the suspicion that the ABC was whipping up the speculation to cue other media outlets. If so, it worked. The very next day, July 4, the SMH repeated the ABC’s non-story, of course with drag-queen pics and a YouTube link to the Simon Hunt, er, song.

The ABC’s love-in with Simon Hunt goes back all of two decades. ABC Triple-J repeatedly aired the Back Door Man parody of Hanson over 11 days, until Hanson successfully obtained an injunction in Brisbane on September 1, 1997 pending a defamation suit. She was then MHR for Oxley.

Here’s some of the  ABC-promoted snippets from Back Door Man quoted in the judicial findings:

Backdoor, clean up our own back door. We need to get behind and we’ll do trade with you. I still work and I worked the other night. I’m rostered on I think for next week. Now a gentleman came up and told me he said that other people don’t receive, they’ve got to accept it here inside… Yes it’s a little bit country of course… I’m a backdoor man for the Klu Klux Klan with a very horrendous plan. I’m a very caring potato.  [A ‘potato’ is gay argot for a receiving male partner, according to Hanson’s lawyers]… You must come out and be one of us. As long as children come across,
 I’m a happy person. 

Justice Ambrose commented,

There’s a political overtone to the whole exercise which seems to denigrate her personally by making assertions as to her sexual preference and her abnormal sexual attraction with respect to children and so on…I can’t imagine anybody listening to that production would not conclude that the assertion was that Pauline Hanson was a paedophile … or that she was a homosexual and rejoiced in the fact… I can’t imagine that one can avoid liability for injury to reputation… by simply prefacing it by saying, `Well, this is satirical, don’t take this seriously,’ and then playing it over and over and over again.

The ABC then spent more taxpayer funds appealing, only to lose again on September 28, 1998.

Chief Justice De Jersey  (now Queensland’s Governor) said,

Before the Chamber Judge, [Hanson] contended that the broadcast material gave rise to imputations that she is a homosexual, a prostitute, involved in unnatural sexual practices, associated with the Ku Klux Klan, a man and/or a transvestite and involved in or party to sexual activities with children. The [ABC] essentially contended that the material amounted merely to vulgar abuse and was not defamatory.

Interesting, that the ABC condoned and defended its “vulgar abuse” of politicians it dislikes. That abuse involved gratuitous sexual  aspersions as bad or worse than any taunts thrown at Julia Gillard by foul-mouthed bloggers. Remember, this is the taxpayer-funded ABC airing the sexual abuse, not some nutter on the internet.

De Jersey J continued,

These were grossly offensive imputations relating to the sexual orientation and preference of a Member of Parliament and her performance which the appellant in no degree supports as accurate and which were paraded as part of an apparently fairly mindless effort at cheap denigration.

But maybe Simon Hunt is some sort of comedic/literary giant whose output, though edgy, is worth the ABC’s sustained and dedicated attention? Here’s some material from Hunt’s own “Pauline Pantsdown story” listed among his academic credentials. This item is described as, wait for it, “an essay for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation”[6] to help it produce a documentary feature on himself.[7] The documentary was not completed. (Lately, Hunt has been working  on social media campaigns against homophobia):

At one night, I did a guest performance with [name redacted] of the organisers.  After getting ‘out of it’, she pretended to ‘fuck’ me with a dildo. I then ‘woke up’, pulled a dildo out of my mushroom, and ‘fucked’ her. This was all fully-clothed (albeit in drag), pantomime sex. The next year, she became one of my sound students at the College Of Fine Arts, and played a video of the performance as part of her work. The sight of the lecturer, in full little-girl drag, pretending to fuck one of the female students up the arse with a dildo, proved a little too much for one of the mature-age students, but it led to a vigorous class discussion.” 

As for Back Door Man, Hunt says Triple-J listeners voted it No. 92 on the “Hottest 100 [Songs] of all time”, an instance of faint praise.[8]

Hunt is particularly proud that 8-14 year-old-children enjoyed Back Door Man, to the evident satisfaction of their teachers.

Time and time again, school teachers and parents would tell me that their kids knew all the words to the song. I hadn’t counted on the nursery- rhyme factor — I had also become some sort of alternative Ronald McDonald for the 8-14 year olds.

In all seriousness, Hunt repeatedly compares Hanson with Hitler, but generously concedes that Hanson has not so far advocated use of gas ovens.[9] Hunt continues to castigate Hanson for her anti-Islamic views. He seems unaware that sharia-minded Islamists like to throw gays off high buildings.

Hanson has suffered other forms of  misogynist abuse. On March 15, 2009, while she was in her final week’s campaign as an independent for the Queensland state election, News Corp’s Sunday Telegraph, together with four other Murdoch tabloids, published nude photographs purporting to be of Hanson in 1975. The papers paid a paparazzo $15,000 for them. Hanson’s election bid was defeated amid taunts and mockery, but the pictures of “Hanson” were manifestly fakes. In May, Sunday Telegraph editor Neil Breen published a signed, three-paragraph apology to her saying, “We have learnt a valuable lesson”. She obtained an out of court settlement.

 

Tony Thomas’s new book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here .


[1] Musto: “We note that the editorial purpose was comic and intended to satirise Mr Kenny’s criticism of the ABC, in particular his view given in the immediate aftermath of the election result that the Corporation’s funding should be reviewed.”

[2] “Since 2000 he has been working as a full-time lecturer at UNSW Art & Design, developing undergraduate and postgraduate Digital Media degrees while continuing to work as a sound designer and composer. His research interests are focused on global visions of sound practice that extend beyond traditional eurocentric visions to incorporate other centres of practice.”

[3] The author of the ABC’s non-story on Pantsdown, Kristian Silva, is also comfortable with vulgarity, retweeting another ABC reporter about some police scandal, “What a bunch of power-tripping jerk offs.”‪ Silva, judging by his tweets, also has a fixation about Cardinal Pell as an alleged child-abuser.

[4] “I Don’t Like It” was recently incorporated into a permanent exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy at ‘old Parliament House’, Canberra.

[5] ABC guidelines include that  “regardless of justification, it’s important to be aware of the power and 6 effect of discriminatory language. Even if there’s a reason to include it in our content,
doing so can normalise it, convey that it’s acceptable, or bring it to the attention of
audience members who might not have been familiar with it.”

[6] Journal Articles: Hunt SD, 2000, ‘I`m a Back Door Man: An Essay for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’, Perfect Beat: the Pacific journal of research into contemporary music and popular culture, pp. 34 – 44

[7] Hunt happens to be the son of former NSW Supreme Court judge and defamation expert David Hunt.

[8] According to the ABC’s Silva, Hunt “shot to fame in the 1990s” on the strength of the two songs. Silva sets his “fame” bar quite low.

[9]  Hunt: “While there are some differences between the politics of Adolf Hitler and Pauline Hanson — the latter has, for example, yet to present a comprehensive economic program — the two politicians share two areas of major focus…”

COMMENTS [2]

  1. en passant

    Tony,
    Shame on you for listening or watching their ABC at all!

    But don’t worry, Senator Mitch Fifield will soon be all over this and will defund their ABC once it starts criticizing Mal the Munificent.

    Alternatively, Pauline & Co. could vote down the ABC budget and the superannuation grab from the thrifty productive people so that there is no longer enough to pay Pollie Waffler Pensions.

    I have a dream ….

  2. Jody

    Actually, I found it offensive when the ABC aired a so-called ‘comedy’ called “At Home With Julia” during the Gillard government’s tenure. Not only was this personally insulting to the PM it also brought the office of the Prime Minister into disrepute. All for the sake of a laugh. Well, I never laughed because I found it shocking to see ‘Julia’ copulating with Tim under the Australian flag which was wholly demeaning to our first female PM and emasculating to the image of the ‘first bloke’. This went FAR BEYOND mere satire, which is historically clever, witty and powerful. “At Home with Julia” was none of those things, apart from misogynistic, sexist and humiliating to a female. I wonder why there weren’t people running with their pants on fire (cough) to the Discrimination Commissioner. I would have done so but I was busy living in Vienna at the time.

    ABC – shorthand for “Absolutely Bullying and Craven”.

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