On Sunday night, Sky News Australia aired an interview between far-right nationalist Blair Cottrell and former Northern Territory Country Liberal Party chief minister Adam Giles. In the interview Giles, who was the first Indigenous person to serve as a head of government in Australia, referred to his guest as an activist. During the conversation he also asked Cottrell if he saw parallels between the way “Australia is going and where it should go in regards to some of the arguments [President] Donald Trump is putting out there."
Cottrell, the former leader of the United Patriots Front, responded by saying Australia lacked national pride and also called for immigration cutbacks.
Before we go on, a bit of background on Cottrell: He is one of the loudest, and most violent voices for Australian nationalism. In 2017 he was convicted of inciting contempt for Muslims after he and two other men uploaded a video to the United Patriots Front Facebook page that showed them performing a mock beheading. The disturbing act was in protest of the building of a mosque in Bendigo. He’ll appear in court later this year to fight the conviction. He’s previously spent time in prison for arson, advocated for violence against women on social media and said pictures of Adolf Hitler should be hung in Australian classrooms.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the backlash to his appearance was swift. Among the many voices on social media was Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, who Tweeted that the interview “highlights how extremists are being dangerously accommodated by sections of the Australian media.”
Greens New South Wales MP David Shoebridge said he refused to appear on the network until they apologised, and encouraged other MPs to do the same.
Even Sky’s one hosts were aghast at the decision to give Cottrell airtime. David Speers and Laura Jayes both called out the segment on their personal Twitter accounts.
By 9:44PM on Sunday night Sky had got the message and Tweeted a statement from news director Greg Byrnes that admitted it was wrong to have Cottrell on. They also said the interview had been “removed from repeat time slots and online platforms.” Although the footage is still live on other parts of the web, including on Cottrell’s own Facebook page which has over 21k followers.
Cottrell has responded by calling the statement “pathetic”, saying the chanel caved to “leftist abuse.”
While the backlash has been wide reaching, it’s worth noting this is hardly the first time Cottwell has been given a platform by mainstream media. As The Guardian points out, Channel 7 interviewed him in January of this year, and Triple J had him on in 2016. At the time, Channel 7 faced similar anger from the media and public in the days after the interview aired.
Even discounting Cottwell’s abusive and violent past and history of racial hate, it’s impossible for Sky to not have anticipated the response his presence would get.
UPDATE: 11.33AM, 6, August, 2018
The former Labor minister Craig Emerson has announced he is resigning as a commentator for Sky News following their decision to air an interview with Cottrell. On Twitter he explained his decision was motivated by his family's own experiences with bigotry.