In the rough and tumble of the media cycle, there needs to be a line. And today that line was crossed.
Today, one of Australia’s newspapers implied that the deputy leader of the Opposition supported ISIS and two of the world’s most deadly jihadists.
In the image, Ms Plibersek grins broadly while wearing a hijab and carrying a package from the United Nations. Behind her, in the image’s right-hand bottom corner, a hint of ISIS’ trademark black flag is visible.
The men standing next to Ms Plibersek in the digitally altered image are two of Australia’s most infamous jihadists, Mohamed Elomar and Khaled Sharrouf.
Both are notorious for posting gory photos featuring dead bodies to social media. Elomar has also been linked to an al-Qaeda terrorist manual and has threatened Australian authorities with terror attacks. Meanwhile, Sharrouf has allegedly enslaved and raped women in Iraq, and made headlines when he shared photos of his son holding up a severed head.
Accompanying today’s Daily Telegraph image is an article attacking Ms Plibersek for saying Australia has a humanitarian responsibility to Syria.
The image comes in response to Plibersek’s suggestion that it would be dangerous for Australians to get involved in air raids in Syria. (A suggestion that has also been put forth by a Liberal MP).
As Plibersek told reporters yesterday, Australia has cut funding for Syrian refugees at the time of a massive humanitarian crisis in the country.
Since there is no legal basis for Australian air strikes in Syria, Plibersek suggested our focus be on helping Syrian civilians.
“We have a much greater humanitarian responsibility in Syria,” she said. “With 11.5 million people displaced, with millions in neighbouring countries like Jordan, like Lebanon, like Turkey, we should be doing more to help, but we’ve actually reduced our assistance.’’
She has a point: The Syrian war has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Around 7.6 civilians are displaced within Syria alone, and more than half are children in desperate need of assistance.
But the accuracy or otherwise of Ms Plibersek’s statements is not the issue here.
There’s a lot that happens in the rough and tumble of the media cycle. Jokes are made. Headlines are designed to capture the eye and the imagination. Views are expressed. Politicians are often the target of unflattering cartoons and unfavourable stories. That is all reasonable.
But there is a line.
Given everything that has happened in Australia in the last 12 months – the fear, the investigations and death – implying that someone supports ISIS is a grave accusation.
Implying Tanya Plibersek is an ISIS supporter and making it a front page joke is a step too far. Lumping her in with known murderers and terrorists is disrespectful, irresponsible and misleading.
Regardless of your political persuasion, ordinary Australians would agree that accusing anyone of supporting men known for beheadings and rape and their murderous regime is out of line.