In March last year Sunrise host Samantha Armytage presented a “Hot Topics” segment about Aboriginal adoption and claimed Aboriginal children at risk of rape and assault could only be place with “relatives or other Indigenous families”.
Fellow panellist Prue MacSween then suggested another Stolen Generation was needed to protect the children.
A public apology will go a long way to resolving the hurt, shame and distress that our clients and the Yolngu people generally have endured.
Stewart O’Connell, lawyer
In February this year, Yolngu woman Kathy Mununggurr and 14 other adults and children of Yirrkala community filed a defamation lawsuit, claiming they had been defamed because blurred footage of them was broadcast during the panel discussion.
They sued for defamation, breach of privacy, breach of confidence, race discrimination and breach of Australian Consumer Law. They complained that the footage used was originally taken for the purpose of promoting Aboriginal health.
The group said that Sunrise had implied they abused or neglected children by using the footage while the panel discussed child abuse.
In June Seven’s lawyers sought to strike out the claim, saying an ordinary person would not avoid and shun someone they perceived to be a child victim of assault.
But Justice Steven Rares dismissed the application and said members of the community “might not be as sympathetic as you say”.
“People are not going to associate with people they feel are damaged goods,” Justice Rares said at the time.
The court still needs to approve the settlement, with Justice Rares requiring further information about a trust fund that will be setup to handle the payouts for the children when they turn 18.
A Seven spokesman said: “The settlement was mentioned in court this morning but as [it’s] not finalised we’re unable to say more at the moment apart from saying we’re pleased.”
He declined to say when Sunrise would broadcast the apology. Seven will pay the costs of the proceedings.
Last September the television watchdog ruled the Seven Network had breached the industry code of practice by including a factual inaccuracy and inciting contempt or ridicule on the basis of someone’s race.
A group of Aboriginal elders also lodged a racial discrimination complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The broadcast sparked weeks of protests with furious demonstrators swamping Seven’s studio in Martin Place. Protesters held placards, chanted and banged on the studio’s windows before Sunrise lowered its blinds to block them out of the TV broadcast.
Demonstrators also flooded the program’s backdrop during the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April.
With Broede Carmody
Josh Dye is a news reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.