Congratulations to Therese Rein, winner of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s 2010 Human Rights Award, and all the other winners. It was particularly interesting to see the Internet get a look in with GetUp winning the Community (Organisation) Award.
On Line Opinion was a sponsor of the awards, which might seem a little strange. Why would an organisation that struggles with its own budget sponsor something as high profile and well-established, and well-funded (the awards lunch was at the Sheraton on the Park in Sydney)?
Well, the sponsorship allowed us to give value through one of our most under-estimated assets – our readership. We gave the commission 500,000 ad impressions over the course of 5 months. That’s a lot of ad impressions, and the commission got a lot of click throughs to their site from them. We were able to do this because while On Line Opinion is a good advertising proposition, we don’t get as much demand for our space as we should, so there is generally inventory available that doesn’t get filled. (We’re currently filling it with Google ads, but if you have something you want to get out before Christmas, please email me now).
So it was a good deal for the commission, and a good deal for us.
But there was another reason why I responded favourably when approached for sponsorship. The Human Rights Commission, or at least some people associated with it, had a part to play in the beginnings of On Line Opinion, and I was very happy to catch-up with one of them, former Human Rights Commission Chris Sidoti, at the function. So I felt like we had some sort of a debt to repay.
I met Chris in 1998 through Margie Cook, who was the Communications Manager for the Commission, but who also had a contract to manage election night coverage for Channel Nine. 1998 was the year that Pauline Hanson burst onto the stage in Queensland with One Nation winning a larger share of the vote in the state election than either the Libs or the Nats, and I understood more about the dynamic of how that happened than just about anyone else in Australia.
As One Nation was obviously going to be a factor in the federal election Margie picked my brains a lot and involved me in the Channel Nine coverage of the Federal Election that year. Chris Sidoti was also personally concerned about the One Nation surge as well and we had a number of conversations about how you should deal with its rise.
At a tactical level my advice at the time, which formed the basis of a number of op-eds, was to stop talking about One Nation. The greatest force behind Pauline was publicity.
The second greatest force was the propensity for the elites to look down on her and talk down to her.
That is partly where On Line Opinion came in. I saw Hanson as a symptom of a problem in society, not the cause of it. And the problem was that people refused to engage with people with whom they disagreed, and worse, denigrated them and denied them the right to hold their opinions. With the cultural megaphones of broadcast and print media in the hands of the elites this created enourmous tension which erupted in One Nation. (As a result of the One Nation phenomenon and the movement it forced in public discourse, one can now see similar tensions building up on the left).
On Line Opinion was an attempt to level the playing field, at least in one corner. Our underlying proposition has always been that no matter how wrong it might be, you are entitled to hold a particular opinion, and to personal respect, even if the opinion might be seen by many as objectionable.
We reason that it is better to get opinions out in the open and discussed than to allow them to fester in private and eventually explode. We also figure that with enough argument and discussion opinions will change.
We won’t publish everything but we do publish widely within the law.
The first edition of On Line Opinion was in April 1999, and Chris Sidoti was one of the five original contributors via a piece on his “Bush Talks” project, which was an outreach project by the commission to hear the concerns of people around the country – just the sort of approach that I was recommending. In an OLO tradition I also wrote a piece criticising some of Chris’s ideas – discussion and dissent, particularly amongst friends, is healthy and necessary.
The OLO approach is one that many find difficult to accept, and we are currently under attack from a number of gay activists because we dared to publish this piece by Bill Muehlenberg (which is mostly a pastiche of comments by gay activists) even though the majority of articles that I can find on the site on the issue support gay marriage.
And by attack I mean attempting to intimidate me, sponsors or advertisers.
How ironic at a time when we are sponsoring the Human Rights Awards.