April 5, 2019

Media Release: Residents of Yirrkala Aboriginal Community Sue Channel Seven

MEDIA RELEASE – 05/04/2019

RESIDENTS OF YIRRKALA ABORIGINAL COMMUNITY SUE CHANNEL SEVEN

Today in the Federal Court a group of Yolngu people from the NT Aboriginal community of Yirrkala took a significant step towards seeking justice against media giant Channel Seven.

On 13 March 2018 on its Sunrise Breakfast program, Channel Seven broadcast a segment with the title, “Aboriginal Adoption, Proposal for White Families Should Take in Abused Kids”. The segment, headed by host Samantha Armytage, was widely condemned and provoked passionate protests for its lack of Aboriginal voices, the tone of the discussion and panellist Prue MacSween suggesting a second stolen generation. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that the segment breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice.

The segment also featured background footage of Aboriginal people, including children, from the community of Yirrkala. Although a filter was applied to the footage to create a slight blurring effect, the images of the people remained readily identifiable. Yirrkala is a Yolngu community of approximately 850 people on the East Coast of the Gove Peninsula in the Northern Territory.

“Our clients are extremely unhappy with having been being recklessly depicted in such a negative manner”, said Peter O’Brien principal solicitor of O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors.

It will be argued in the Federal Court that the context of the commentary resulted in defamatory imputations that the persons featured in the footage had abused, assaulted or neglected children, were incapable of protecting their children, were members of a dysfunctional community and were people who participated in a harmful culture.

The footage was originally filmed with the consent of those featured for the purpose of a health promotion in the community. No permission was ever given for Channel Seven to use it for any other purpose.

“The plaintiffs assert that the segment about child sexual abuse and the forced removal of children while showing identifiable images of innocent people is defamatory. If child sexual and physical abuse was being discussed in a non-Aboriginal context, it is inconceivable that children from a Sydney suburb would be randomly depicted. The plaintiffs are Aboriginal people from a remote part of Australia, they should not be depicted in this manner in the context of this program, just because they are Aboriginal. Hopefully this court action goes some way to changing that approach”, said Mr. O’Brien.