It’s a tough gig, being a satirist. Particularly when one’s focus is the social and political fabric of parochial, insular Tasmania.
Good satire doesn’t need to be funny. Nor does it need to be offensive, abusive or defame individuals. But sometimes, it can be most effective when all of these tools are used, if that’s what it takes to shake a complacent society into broadening its perspective on life.
The New Examiner is a harmless, online, satirical newspaper. Our original incarnation: `Launceston Examiner - Wallowing in Mediocrity Since 1842’ was quite rightly banned by Facebook in response to a claims of copyright violation from a newspaper operating in the north of Tasmania. Since then, we’ve changed our name to the New Examiner, relocated our head office to Bothwell, and recruited a number of new writers.
We use the social media formats of Facebook and Twitter. as registering a domain name and operating a website would cost money, which we are not currently generating. Our writers, none of whom are paid by us, include journalists from two of Tasmania’s major dailies, a former State parliamentarian and others from a variety of vocations. The New Examiner, with scarcely 10,000 readers each month, is a threat to nobody. That’s why we were surprised at the reaction of Liberal hopeful Andrew Nikolic when we wrote a small story about his army career.
Tasmania is fertile ground for satire. The political landscape may be barren in terms of intellectual capacity, but there’s no doubt our elected leaders have character. What other state can boast a Premier with the oozing sex appeal of Lara Giddings, a senator with the polarising charisma of Eric Abetz, and a backbencher with the flaccid cerebral impulses of Brenton Best? The New Examiner has written about all three multiple times, yet we’re still to receive even a mildly threatening letter demanding a retraction. In fact many current political staffers, across the spectrum, are fans of the New Examiner.
Then there’s Andrew Nikolic. The endorsed Liberal candidate for the northern seat of Bass has wasted no time getting into election mode, despite the fact he’s likely to be waiting another 18 months before voters have their say. With the Liberals having no policies to speak of, Nikolic has a free rein: writing letters to newspapers, issuing media releases, kissing babies in public. In short, he’s acting like the next Federal election was scheduled for June 2012 rather than November 2013.
Nikolic has embraced social media. His Facebook site (authorised by former Liberal candidate Sam McQuestin) boasts 680 followers, although he’s quick to despatch anybody brave enough to offer a viewpoint contrary to his. (There’s actually a Facebook page dedicated specifically for Facebook users blocked by Andrew Nikolic.)
He’s also aligned himself with some of the more unpleasant social media outlets. Not only is he the pin-up boy for more extreme elements of the logging industry, but he’s an unashamed supporter of `Code Red’, a one-man vendetta against Greens, homosexuals, the Labor Party and anybody who questions Forestry Tasmania.
Nikolic isn’t a politician. Yet. Generally, the New Examiner respects the rights of individuals. Politicians, however, are fair game, particularly when their antics, statements and actions aren’t effectively reported in mainstream media. So when Nikolic chose to abuse a handful of elderly protestors in the Launceston mall (TT here) because they didn’t agree with his far-right brand of politics, we added him to the list of targets.
Although he’s retired from the army, Nikolic’s biggest sales pitch to the voters is his military background. He’s even gone so far as to promote `Andrew’s Army’ on Facebook - a collection of individuals preparing to fight the good fight against the evil Labor/Green Government.
So last week, the following story appeared in the New Examiner”
>BASS Liberal candidate Andrew Nikolic has come under fire for claiming he was heroically killed in action during service in Afghanistan. News of Nikolic’s alleged death emerged on Anzac Day, when the retired army soldier was paying tribute to those serving overseas. ``I know first hand the dangers of bringing democracy to Afghanistan,’’ he told a group of ex-servicemen last week, ``having been killed by hostile sniper fire whilst attempting to rescue four young children fr…om Taliban rebels,’’ he claimed. The revelations, which could damage his candidacy for political office, follow rumours that Nikolic had previously claimed to have been ``fatally wounded by enemy machine gun fire in Iraq,’’ as well as ``suffering slow, painful death by torture at the hands of Tamil militants in 2002.’’ But Nikolic’s political opponents say the claims simply aren’t true. ``If he really was killed in Iraq, what was he doing handing out balloons at Agfest this morning?’’ asked sitting Bass MHR Geoff Lyons. ``So it appears he’s simply inflating his credentials in a cheap bid to pick up a few votes,’’ Lyons added. ``Although my army contacts do admit he nearly died at the hands of his own troops during his last tour of Afghanistan.’‘
We will concede it wasn’t our finest work - nor was it original. The concept was stolen from a similar story published on `The Onion’ some years ago. But it certainly got Nikolic fired up. Within hours, the following diatribe appeared on his own Facebook page:
When they told me that politics would be a robust affair, I never for a moment thought there would be people out there posting items about my death in Afghanistan from “a slow painful death by torture,” “hostile sniper fire,” and machine guns.” And that others would ‘like’ and joke about it. A family member alerted me to the post in question, which was posted on Thursday 3 May and was subsequently re-posted by Duncan Massey, Yvonne Gluyas, and Rodney Viney. Some of my fellow Australians obviously liked the post very much, so I thought I would acknowledge their sense of humour.
That post didn’t concern us. We maintain the story was satire, and arguably less offensive than many we’ve published about actual politicians with scarcely the threat of a writ. Not even from the Premier, who we’ve been particularly hard on.
But what did concern us was Nikolic’s next action, informing us that `if we didn’t remove the offending story by 5pm Sunday, he would write to the employers of all the individuals who had ‘‘liked’’ the story.’ He continued to list the names, and employers of some 17 people who had dared tick the `like’ button on Facebook.
He’s also used Facebook to endorse a program of contacting public sector employers to inform of which employees were involved in such a `pathetic and disrespectful farce.’ Is there a precedent for this? We can’t recall a single instance of a would-be politician using his perceived position of authority to harass individuals and threaten to risk their employment, simply because of a disagreement of what constitutes satire.
We believe both Mr Nikolic, and the Liberal Party, have some questions to answer:
Will the letter to the employers of individuals who enjoy satire be a private correspondence, or endorsed by the Liberal Party?
Is Mr Nikolic’s response an indication of the type of media restrictions we can look forward to enjoying under a Liberal Government?
Will Mr Nikolic apply these same standards to the supporters on his own page who openly support vilification, dismissal from employment and public abuse of those who don’t agree with Liberal Policy?
Martin Gaylord is a pseudonymn. The writer is known to the Editor.
First published: 2012-05-07 05:05 AM
A Liberal Party candidate in Tasmania has threatened to contact the employers of Facebook users who “liked” a satirical article posted about him online.
Andrew Nikolic, the Liberal candidate for Bass, has since reneged on the threats after initially denying to Fairfax Media that he had even made them.
The New Examiner is an online satirical blog operating on Facebook and Twitter.
• Images below published with the article in the SMH today, where you’ll also find full links. But you won’t find a line in The Examiner or The Advocate ...
BY ROSEMARY BOLGER
10 May, 2012 06:59 AM
BASS Liberal Party candidate Andrew Nikolic has been accused of online bullying, after he threatened to complain to the employers of people who ``liked’’ a satirical story about him.
Mr Nikolic took offence to a story, adapted from satirical news website The Onion, which lampooned him for ``claiming he was heroically killed in action during service in Afghanistan’‘.
The story says he also claimed to have suffered ``a slow, painful death by torture at the hands of Tamil militants in 2002’’ and has Bass MHR Labor Geoff Lyons questioning how his opponent could have been killed in Iraq when he saw him handing out balloons at Agfest.
The story appeared on a Facebook page run anonymously on Thursday.
In a comment in response, Mr Nikolic listed the 13 people who `liked’ the story and where they work and sent the same message as a private message to each of those listed.
He also threatened to send ``formal letters of complaint’’ to their employers and posted a statement on his website upset that people had joked about his death and again listing the people who `liked’ it.
Rod Mason was one of the Facebook users listed and said Mr Nikolic’s response was a ``massive overreaction’‘.
``It reflects poorly on his respect for the rights of others,’’ Mr Mason said.
Another person listed in the message said she felt Mr Nikolic was trying to intimidate her and called on him to apologise.
Mr Nikolic did not respond to The Examiner’s request for comment yesterday, but took to Facebook to respond.
``As those who know me well understand, I feel very strongly about misguided attempts at humour when they relate to military service,’’ Mr Nikolic wrote.
``My reaction was driven by what I consider to be a very personal attack on me, my military record, and the impact on a close family member who alerted me to the post.’‘
Tasmanian Liberal Party president Sam McQuestin defended Mr Nikolic. ``The activities that were being undertaken by others on Facebook was distasteful particularly as he is the father of a member serving in the Australian Army,’’ Mr McQuestin said.
• Screen capture from AN’s website: