Black Lives Matter in Australia – Channel 7, Samantha Armytage and Prue McSween to be Sued in Federal Court for Racial Vilification After Settlement Negotiations Collapse

By June 11, 2020Media Release

Settlement negotiations in a Group Racial Discrimination Complaint filed in the Australian Human Rights Commission by a group of Aboriginal Elders, Award-Winners & Young Leaders in September 2018 have collapsed forcing the eight Aboriginal Complainants to take their case to the Federal Court.

The Group Complaint focussed on a controversial ‘abhorrent’, ‘vile’ and ‘racist’ Hot Topics segment recommending another Stolen Generation as a way to solve child welfare issues which was broadcast nationally on Channel 7 Sunrise on the morning of 13 March 2018. The segment featured controversial commentator Prue McSween as well as radio host Ben Davis and Sunrise Host Samantha Armytage.

During the segment, Armytage, MacSween and Davis discussed child removal in ‘Indigenous families’ and ‘white families’ and asserted factually inaccurate statements about Aboriginal child removal which were alleged to be deeply hurtful and harmful to Aboriginal Australians and their families. The panel failed to include any Indigenous speakers or anyone with any expertise in the important and sensitive issues being discussed. MacSween even went so far as to state that “just like the first Stolen Generation where a lot of children were taken because it was for their well-being, we need to do it again”.

Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, is leading the Group Complaint. Aunty Rhonda is the daughter of famous civil rights activist, Charles “Chicka” Dixon, a prominent Aboriginal activist of the 1960s/1970s and ringleader in the decade-long campaign for the 1967 referendum and the 1972 establishment of the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra which still stands today.

This morning Aunty Rhonda stated: “This is a very important time for our people, with tens of thousands of Australians standing up to call for recognition, justice and reconciliation. People are standing up around the world calling out systemic and entrenched racism and saying “Enough!” We have been fighting for so long for justice and to end racism in Australia – we just want accountability and equality. This nation-wide broadcast by Channel 7 in March 2018 was another symbol of national shame and another appalling example of the deeply entrenched virus of racism that still plagues white platforms of privilege in this country. We say that community standards have changed, and this racism must be called out, there must be zero tolerance, it is not acceptable anymore – especially by a national broadcaster who should know better.

“By contrast, the ABC Insiders program last Sunday featured 3 white people discussing Indigenous disadvantage but they had the humility to acknowledge and apologise for the fact that the panel did not have an Indigenous voice who could speak authentically of the terrible homicides of Indigenous people by white police and correctional officers. 

Aunty Rhonda continued: “Sunrise, on the other hand, platformed wealthy white women calling for a Stolen Generations 2.0 as a means of salvation for our young people. This shameful, profoundly hurtful and devastating display of racism was broadcast by a commercial television station into homes right across Australia; the dignity of all Aboriginal people and children was violated in our very own homes and loungerooms around Australia. Channel 7’s subsequent disingenuous downcast eyes and ‘we’re so sorry’ murmurs, after we protested and their racism was called out, mean nothing to us when they refuse all reasonable requests for proper reparation of the pulverizing hurt, humiliation and distress, we feel every single day of our lives. How Samantha Armytage continues on a program that hopes to speak to all Australians in light of her previous slip up in 2015 about racial preferencing speaks louder than all the fake empathy and ‘regret’.” 

The segment was subsequently found by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (‘ACMA’) in August 2018 to have breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice for inaccuracies and for provoking serious contempt on the basis of race in breach of the Code as the segment contained strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group. On 4 April 2019, Channel Seven withdrew an application to have the Federal Court review the ACMA’s finding and agreed to provide to the ACMA a court enforceable undertaking, in relation to sensitive and complex matters of this kind, to:

  • commission an independent audit of the production processes for the current affairs content of Sunrise; and,
  • ensure editorial staff are provided with training in relation to identifying and dealing with such matters.

The segment was also the subject of a defamation case brought by members of the Yirrkala Aboriginal Community who were featured in unrelated file footage during the segment and who also sued for breach of privacy, breach of confidence, race discrimination and breach of Australian consumer law. That case settled in December 2019 in a settlement approved by the Federal Court for an undisclosed amount of compensation, and Channel Seven was ordered to pay their legal costs. Channel Seven also agreed to give a public apology.

With the global uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd, and the significant peaceful protests that took place throughout Australia last weekend calling for justice for 400+ Aboriginal Deaths in Custody since the 1991 Royal Commission, the complainants said that it is gratifying to see some progress at last in race relations in Australia. 

However, they expressed significant disappointment that settlement negotiations with Channel 7 have broken down during such an important moment of reckoning for Australia and the world on issues of racism and race relations.

The Group Complaint is being led by both Aboriginal Elders and young Aboriginal leaders from around Australia including those from the group FISTT (Fighting in Solidarity Towards Treaties) responsible for organising the rolling protests outside Channel 7 HQ in Martin Place in the days immediately following the broadcast which were sensationally censored by Channel 7 and during the Sunrise broadcast from the Gold Coast during the Commonwealth Games.

The group is represented by leading anti-discrimination and human rights Queensland law firm, Susan Moriarty & Associates.

The Complainant Group is comprised of the following members:

  1. Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor (Gadigal & Yuin Woman, Sydney and South Coast NSW).
  2. Aunty Debra Swan (Gomeroi Nation Yinaar (Woman) from the Goonoo Gonnoo tribe Moree/Terry Hie Hie area NSW, lives in Sydney).
  3. Cameron Manning (Gomeroi Man, Mungindi, Toomelah and Boomi, lives in Newcastle).
  4. Lynda-June Coe (Wiradjuri Woman of the Lachlan River, Erambie, NSW lives in Newcastle).
  5. Gwenda Stanley (Gomeroi Woman from Moree, NSW, lives in Brisbane).
  6. Ruby Wharton (Gamilaraay Kooma Yinnar (Woman) Cunnamulla, QLD, lives on the Gold Coast).
  7. Simone Davison (Ngarigo Woman from Bairnsdale Victoria, lives in Sydney).
  8. Trisha Morton-Thomas (Anmatter Women, Tanami Desert NT, lives in Alice Springs).

SCHEDULE: Extracts of Complaints

In her Complaint to the AHRC Aunty Rhonda stated: “I am a traditional descendent of the Gadigal and Yuin people of Sydney and the South Coast Of NSW. I found the Sunrise panel’s comments to be very racist and hurtful as my grandfather and his two brothers were stolen from their parents and put into the Kinchella Boys Home where they were treated very cruelly. This broadcast has bought great sorrow hurt for our people and contributed to the intergenerational trauma which today affects my family mentally, physically and spiritually”.

Elder Aunty Debra Swan, represents the group Grandmothers Against Removal she co-founded nearly five years ago stated: “I am a co-founder of Grandmothers Against Removal NSW and have been working voluntary with this group for four and a half years, to stop removal of Aboriginal children from their families and to restore children, (in the Out of Home Care system) back to their families. When I first watched the Sunrise program, I was outraged and thought: ‘How can these three people, Ms Armytage, Ms MacSween and Mr Davis talk about this issue without any experience or qualification?’ They obviously did not know what they were talking about and were quite racist in their comments. My outrage quickly turned to insult given the knowledge I have in relation to this very topic. I was offended as well, not just for myself but for the Stolen Generation, the continuation of the stolen generation, the children who are in care at present and all families who have been subjected to this system of Child Protection, and Aboriginal people generally as we have all been affected.”

Award-winning writer, producer and actress Trisha Morton-Thomas, Anmaterr woman from the Tanami Desert who lives in Alice Springs (known for the films: Occupation Native (2017), 8MMM Aboriginal Radio (2015), The Song Keepers (2017) and Radiance (1998)) has joined the Group Complaint and stated: “I have joined this complaint because across this continent, Aboriginal cultures practice responsibility and obligations to our much-loved children and our families, this is the core of our cultures. Our children have to be safe and protected as that is our lore. We come together across our nations here as the First Peoples of this continent celebrating 65,000 – 80,000 years of the oldest continuous culture on our planet. We ask to be treated with dignity and humanity as together we try to heal the hurts of the past 248 years.”

Young Aboriginal Leader and representative of FISTT, Cameron Manning, a Gomeroi man from Mungindi, Toomelah and Boomi stated: “The shameful history of the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children across this continent is an issue that must be known and understood by everyone. This is a history of colonial violence, intergenerational trauma and genocide that have created a deep hurt for us as Aboriginal people and families that continues to this day. The statements made by the non-Indigenous Sunrise panellists and the emotive sensationalist language used by the presenter had no basis in reality, and perpetuated racist stereotypes without any historical or political context given to the issues being presented. I was affected deeply by this event, which is why I joined hundreds of people in protest at the ‘sunrise’ studios at Martin Place to stand up against this abhorrent behaviour and negative portrayal of my people in the racist Australian media.”

Lynda-June Coe, a Wiradjuri Woman of the Lachlan River, from Erambie Cowra NSW, a high school teacher and PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle stated: On the morning of the panel I became aware of the comments made by the all white panel from friends who notified me through social media. Immediately I watched the episode and my response was in complete and utter shock at the total disregard and lack of informed dialogue allowed to go to air surrounding such highly sensitive and historically damaging issues pertaining to the lives of my people and community. Following this, I immediately set about organising a call to action and protest at Martin Place, Channel 7 studios to send a direct message that this hate speech is not on! We can no longer condone or allow the media to perpetuate divisive material and to race bait Aboriginal people any longer. Enough is enough!”

Ruby Wharton, university law and justice student and Young Aboriginal Leader from the Gold Coast stated: “I am fortunate enough to have had only one grandparent who was a part of the Stolen Generation, however, what my grandmother endured is something that I could never be appreciative of. She was born at Cherbourg and had been raised as a domestic slave in dormitories in Cherbourg, Palm Island and Woorabinda. My grandmother was forced to leave the missions to do domestic work on properties for white families, she was placed with one family who had beaten her so badly that she could no longer smell or hear, unfortunately she was also whipped and raped at this same property. My grandmother is the reason why I am heavily involved with Aboriginal affairs and politics. My grandmother’s experiences were the furthest from being beneficial for herself and if anything had given her reason to fight all forms of racial discrimination even more so. I viewed the Sunrise broadcast on the 13 March 2018 while I was traveling to university via public transport and the segment had been shared in my Facebook newsfeed a number of times. I was shocked that such ill-informed opinions can be posed as truth in prime-time morning television, it was incredibly insulting to myself, my family and my community to observe this vile propaganda. This topic of discussion should not ever be taken lightly, this is a dialog that has the power to dictate the lives and well-being of individuals, this is a discussion that needs to be well informed and involve the appropriate people.”

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