Sky News Australia has pulled one of its flagship Sunday programs after scathing criticism of its decision to air a 10-minute live interview with a far-right nationalist on the issue of immigration.
Blair Cottrell appeared on “The Adam Giles Show” Sunday evening during which he was referred to as an “activist” and asked for his political ambitions and his position on Australian government’s immigration policy.
The leader of the far-right United Patriots Front, Cottrell was convicted in 2015 of inciting serious contempt for Muslims for staging a mock beheading with a mannequin outside Bendigo City Council to protest against a new mosque.
During the Sunday show, Cottrell described himself as a “chippie” (carpenter) who “just says what most people are thinking.”
“I think the people of Australia know there is something wrong with this country. They may not have the information to verbalize what that is but they are willing to listen,” Cottrell said. “The election of Donald Trump is proof that the values and the narratives of the mainstream media do not necessarily represent the values of the people.”
Giles ended the interview by asking about Cottrell’s ambitions, and said “good luck, I hope it all goes well for you.”
The backlash to the interview was quick and furious, with viewers lambasting the channel on social media and pointing to Cottrell’s history of antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Sky News deleted the interview from its site and social accounts, and said it had made a mistake.
“It was wrong to have Blair Cottrell on Sky News Australia,” the channel, a CNN affiliate, tweeted on Sunday. “His views do not reflect ours.”
Later Monday, the CEO of Sky’s parent company, Australian News Channel, announced that Cottrell would not be invited back and the show would be “in recess” while Sky News reviews its editorial processes.
“We deeply regret featuring the interview on our channel,” Angelos Frangopoulos said.
Sky News launched “The Adam Giles Show” in May, touting it as bringing viewers “robust discussion” on news and events taking place in regional Australia. Giles is the former chief minister for the Northern Territory in central Australia.
After the interview aired, former Labor minister Craig Emerson quit as a Sky News commentator, calling Cottrell’s appearance “another step in a journey to normalising racism & bigotry in our country.”
The interview also stoked controversy within the network, with several editors and reporters tweeting angry responses.
“Blair Cottrell is a far right-wing fascist who’s a self confessed Hitler fan. He’s boasted about using ‘violence and terror’ to manipulate women,” Sky News reporter Laura Jayes tweeted.
David Speers, political editor at Sky News, later tweeted that he “100% agree(s)” with Jayes.
Greens MP David Shoebridge lodged a formal complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), citing “offensive and dangerous content,” and demanding an investigation into how Cottrell was booked in the first place.
On Monday, Cottrell reposted footage of the deleted interview on his Twitter account.
“Sky News caved already to Leftist abuse,” Cottrell wrote. “I suppose my ideas are so irrefutable, that the only recourse is to silence me. How pathetic.”
Immigration has long been a divisive issue in Australia despite it often being referred to a nation of immigrants. The Coalition government has recently been accused of whipping up fear over Sudanese gangs in Melbourne to justify its policies.
Last month, it emerged the numbers of permanent migrants to Australia dropped more than 10% from the previous year to around 162,000, the lowest level in a decade.
The government’s policy of turning back boats of asylum seekers who are attempting to reach Australian waters and the offshore processing of asylum claims by so-called “boat people” have been slammed by rights groups and the United Nations as a contravention of human rights.