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MAIL] 5th November 1998
The view from here - Comedian Pauline Pantsdown
If you could change
the ending of any one film, what would it be?
Who's the rudest
person you have ever had to sit near in a cinema?
Name the strangest
place you have ever watched TV.
Name a TV show,
filmi or song that changed your life and how.
|[COMMUNICATIONS UPDATE] November
The Perils of Pauline
by Julie Eisenberg
The continuation of the injunction stopping the ABC from broadcasting the Pauline Pantsdown song "Backdoor Man" has disturbing implications for free speech
Political satire isn't dead yet but it has taken a bruising with the Queensland Court of Appeal's decision to dismiss the ABC's appeal against the September 1997 injunction on the Pauline Pantsdown "Backdoor Man". Heard and decided several days before the October Federal election, the judgment will keep the song off the airwaves at least until the trial and probably beyond, unless the ABC can successfully appeal to the High Court.
Given that only a short time ago, Hanson's outspokenness on sensitive issues was promoted by some as a working model of a new "free speech", it is not hard to find the irony in her use of the courts to suppress someone else's expression.
Since her maiden speech, Hanson has been a fertile subject for satire. The Mambo clothing label produced a T-shirt parody of a Redheads matches box with a Pauline Hanson head, titled "Rednecks: Av Contents: Ignorance". Television comedy program Full Frontal regularly screens a Hanson lookalike lambasting an articulate Asian man for not properly pronouncing "Oz-trayun". Her policies have always been provocative. (As we were recently reminded by Richard Ackland in the Sydney Morning Herald, these included endorsement of "The Truth" book which alleged aboriginal cannibalism of children).
So, it is not surprising to find Hanson occupying a curiously analogous position to the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who was the butt of scathing critique by Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. But there's one big difference. In the celebrated U.S. case, the Supreme Court found that a parody of a Campari advertisement featuring Falwell describing his "first time" with his mother in an outhouse did not defame Falwell because readers would realise it was not to be taken seriously. The Queensland Court of Appeal has taken the opposite approach.
Hanson argued the song imputed she is a homosexual, a prosti- tute, involved in unnatural sexual practices, associated (and had anal sex) with the Ku Klux Klan, was a man and/or a transvestite and involved in sexual activities with children.
The ABC argued the "cut and paste" made it clear to listeners that references to, say, sexuality, were not literal, but rather "alluding in a satirical or ironic sense" to Hanson's conservative political views. The Court of Appeal rejected this, finding there was "no real room for debate that an ordinary sensible listener not avid for scandal would conclude that at least one or more of these imputations arose. If a jury were to find the opposite, I am satisfied that this Court would on appeal set aside its verdict as unreasonable. One or more of these imputations do arise and the are plainly defamatory for exposing the respondent to ridicule and contempt".
The ABC's disclaimer did not "convert grossly defamatory into acceptable material". In effect, the Court found that listeners would have taken the song literally or colloquially.
The ABC could not rely on the Queensland qualified privilege for a good faith publication made during "discussion of a subject of public interest because, in the Court's view, the "major subject" of the song was Hanson's "sexual preferences or orientation". "Derisory fun or nonsense" would not be protected by this defence.
The injunction did not infringe the need for "free and general discussion of public matters" fundamental to our "democratic society" because the song and its "grossly offensive" imputations about a member of parliament were "part of an apparently fairly mindless effort at cheap denigration".
The strong implication is that ordinary Australian listeners (unlike Larry Flynt's American audience) can't be trusted to pick up subtext.
The song is clearly critical of Hanson. But it is far from "mindless". Unlike much of the overt satirism of Hanson, and despite its sometimes "in your face" content, "Backdoor Man" is more subtle in its underlying message: what makes it funny and scathing is the absurdity of that voice saying those things. The internal irony is comparable to a Beazley cut and paste of "I'm a frontrnan for anorexics anonymous" or a mock-up of John Howard promoting the drug ecstasy. Hanson's real life sexual preferences are not the "major subject" of the song: these words are a device which highlight her political conservatism, clearly signposted to listeners by phrases like "I am not human".
"Backdoor Man" asks listeners to distinguish between the real ("Please explain") and the unreal ("I am not human"). It brings to mind an episode of "Wildside" broadcast on ABC TV some months ago with a controversial Hanson-esque central character, whose young son is used as a political pawn by her minder. The ABC ran a disclaimer that while "inspired" by current events, characters and incidents were fictional. They counted on viewers being sophisticated enough to distinguish between what reflected thc real - a character strongly based on the Hanson persona, and what was artifice - a plotline that justified the character's inclusion in a weekly police show. While the episode probably (and defensibly) defamed the real Hanson, it certainly did not impute that she might be involved in a plot to kidnap her young child for political gain.
The decision also raises concerns about the role of the jury in defamation cases. The Court of Appeal has made it clear that if the trial jury doesn't interpret the song in the same way, the court will overturn the jury's finding. Juries in defamation cases serve as a window on how the "ordinary person" would react to a publication. A NSW jury in Howlett v Saggers illustrated this point earlier this year - as a threshold issue, the jury found it wasn't defamatory to say someone was bankrupt but it was defamatory to say their mismanagement of their affairs led to bankruptcy. This is a fine distinction which is very real to a late 1990s audience but doesn't necessarily leap out of the pages of legal textbooks.
The decision also treads awkwardly over late 1990s questions about sexual morality. In December 1997, NSW Supreme Court judge, Justice Levine, left for determination by a jury the question of whether or not it was defamatory to call someone a homosexual. (CU issue 141, March 1998). In contrast, the Queensland Court of Appeal has effectively set community standards without hearing full argument on those issues. Publicity surrounding the injunction would surely send a strong message to the future jury. (And, by the way, since when was it defamatory to call someone "a man"?)
The decision to grant an injunction is always a balancing process, with free speech given a heavy weighting. During the oral argument, Hanson's counsel said: "What's the harm in the ABC not being able to broadcast this song. There's no detriment at all".
Whether it's the ABC or any other media providing a platform for satire or criticism about public and political figures, the harm in shutting out alternative voices is clear.
In the context of the level of criticism surrounding someone like Pauline Hanson, it is also dangerous and naive to treat an individual song or story in isolation. Defamation law can at times be formulaic but even leaving aside questions about the Court's interpretation of the song, it is hard to see how a week of broadcasting "Backdoor Man" on Triple J truly damaged her reputation. Yet, if the Court of Appeal's decision is left to stand, the trial jury will have little to do but tally up the dollars. <
récit Jean-Baptiste Coursaud
Pauline est une punaise !
En Australie, la satiriste Pauline Pantsdown fait plus que singer Pauline Hanson, la Jean.Marie Le Pen nationale. Mieux : elle s'est présentée aux élections fédérales le mois dernier.
Si Pauline Pantsdown, littéralement Pauline Baisse-ton-froc, était Française, peut-étre se nommerait-elle Marie-Jeanne Le Pénis. Mais Pauline est Australienne et caricature Pauline Hanson, leader du parti d'extrême droite 0ne Nation. Avant d'envahir la scène politique de son pays, Pauline Hanson tenait une boutique de "fish and chips" dans son Queensland natal, au nord-est du pays, sa fausse jumelle et ennemie jurée, Pauline Pantsdown, resplendit en drag queen sur la scène gay de Sydney et, lorsqu'elle n'est pas maquillée, s'appelle Simon Hunt, lecteur d'université et par ailleurs chroniqueur cinéma à l'hebdomadaire gay "The Sydney Star Observer" (SSO).
0ne Nation vient certes de perdre son unique siège de député au parlement fédéral australien suite aux élections du 5 octobre, mais onze de ses élus sévissent toujours au parlement régional du Queensland, où ils firent leur entrée en 1996. A leur tète, la rousse Pauline Hanson. Raciste, elle qualifie la communauté aborigène d'Australie de "cannibales". Xénophobe, elle dénonce "l'invasion du pays par les migrants d'origine asiatique". Homophobe, elle considère que Mardi Gras, la Gay Pride australienne, revient à "célébrer quelque chose qui n'est pas naturel".
Heureusement, Pauline Pantsdown a surgi, vengeresse et trublion à la fois. Dans le cadre des élections fédérales, elle annonçait le 9 septembre être candidate au poste de sénateur pour la Nouvelle-Galles-du-Sud tout en confiant : "A l'heure actuelle,je ne suis pas en mesure de révéler le contenu de ma déclaration controversée,je peux seulement dire que ce sera controversé et que ce sera une déclaration." Et de convier les médias à une conférence de presse, tenue trois jours plus tard dans...un magasin de disques d'Oxford Street, la rue gay par excellence de Sydney. A cette occasion,elle lançait son programme politique, le fameux "Plan en dix points" qui n'en compte que neuf. En matière de santé, elle proposait de mettre fin aux "commentaires racistes".Ils "me rendent malade", se plaignait-elle, "Les gens devraient donc arrêter d'en faire et comme ça, nous serons tous heureux et en bonne santé". Hasard mimétique des urnes ou pas, Pauline n'a pas été élue.
Mais la célébrité de Pauline Pantsdown dépasse la seule communauté gay de Sydney. Et là, l'histoire est beaucoup plus sérieuse. Pauline est l'auteur de deux véritables tubes : "I don't like it !", sorti en septembre dernier et le désormais tristement célèbre "l'm a back door man", qui a été en tète du top-5 de la chaîne ABC en 1997. Dans ce morceau, La Pantsdown entonnait "Je suis homosexuel", "J'en suis très fier" et finissait par : "l'm a back door man for the Klu Klux Klan",jeu de mots signifiant à la fois, "Je suis un homme déguisé du Klu Klux Klan" et "Je suis l'homme qui fait rentrer le Klu Klux Klan par la porte de service". Le single n'a pas eu l'heur de plaire à Mme Hanson qui a déposé plainte puis gagné son procès contre la chaîne ABC, bientôt obligée de retirer le morceau de son antenne. Plus grave. La Cour suprême du Queensland a, en appel, confirmé ce jugementle 1er octobre, provoquant ainsi un grave précédent en Australie. Même si elle n'est plus à une exagération prés, Pauline Pantscown déclarait au "SS0" se situer dans le droit héritage des satiristes allemands des années 30 qui dénonçaient le nationalisme et l'antisémitisme d'Hitler. On ne lui en fera pas grief. Bien au contraire. <
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