Pictures, Pauline Hanson and the media

Books have already been written about the curious relationship that Pauline Hanson enjoys with the media, but her latest foray into politics, a tilt at the Queensland seat of Beaudesert, looks set to provide ample fodder for future updated editions. The latest furore her candidacy has brought into the limelight concerns someone named John Johnson, some twenty year-old photos, and what seems to be a rather gung-ho approach to the business of newspaper editorial at the Sunday Telegraph. Unless you are blind, deaf and dumb or overseas you have probably heard about the story thirty-two and a half times already, but for mine the key contribution to the debate is this:

Sunday Telegraph editor Neil Breen said the newspaper was standing by the story and the pictures. The newspaper’s photograph experts had checked the images using computer software before they were published.

“You can see changes in the pixels … if they’ve been doctored, and they weren’t doctored,” he said.

He said the paper had given Hanson every opportunity to comment on the pictures before they were published, but she did not do so.

“It’s now a battle of he-said she-said,” Mr Breen said.

Well if the photos have been put through “something called Photoshop”, as Breen has painfully asserted, then that’s all right then, eh? Whether the photos are indeed shots of Hanson or not is one question. The fact that a stinking morass of doubt exists about their authenticity, however, raises some serious concerns about how this has unfolded. Hanson denies that the woman in Johnson’s photos is her, and has made a few decent points in the public domain supporting her case. Unless the Tele has some further information that not been aired yet in the public domain, it has published these photos on the word of just one man, and stunningly circumstantial evidence. The woman looks like she could be Hanson, and Johnson recalls the woman’s name to be “Pauline”. Is that really all they are going on? A name and a likeness? Could it in anyway be fair or just for a newspaper to publish photos of someone in a state of undress without proving beyond reasonable doubt that the photos feature who they think they do?

It is currently unclear whether Neil Breen and the Tele have been played like fiddles, John Johnson is just plain mistaken, or, in fact, the photos do feature Hanson and the controversial belle from Ipswich has purposefully or absent-mindedly put the whole episode behind her. What is clear is that regardless of her political views, Pauline Hanson has been needlessly burnt at the stake in the media once again, and it is looking likely that she will collect a swag of votes from a sympathetic electorate when this episode is finally done and dusted.

For once I am with Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt – whether they feature Hanson or not (and there is a decent chance they do not) publishing these photos was a mistake of diabolical proportions. The pursuit of a lurid exclusive has landed the Tele knee deep in excrement.