Residents of an Aboriginal community are suing Channel Seven for defamation

Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
  • Channel Seven used footage of people from an Aboriginal community for a controversial segment on its “Sunrise” show.
  • The segment was about non-Indigenous families adopting abused Aboriginal children and it failed to meet broadcasting standards.
  • Channel Seven attempted to blur out people’s faces in the footage but the subjects say they are still identifiable.

Residents of the Yirrkala Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory are suing Channel Seven for defamation after the broadcaster used video footage of them in a controversial segment on its “Sunrise” breakfast program without their permission.

In March 2018, Channel Seven broadcast a segment about non-Indigenous families adopting abused Aboriginal children. It used footage of Yirrkala residents – who live in a remote part of the country some 1,000 kilometres from Darwin – that was originally shot to illustrate a story about a positive health initiative. While Channel Seven used a filter to blur out the people’s faces, the Yirrkala people claim they can still be identified.

Lawyer Peter O’Brien, who is representing the residents of the Yirrkala community, said in a statement that his clients are unhappy that they have been “recklessly depicted in such a negative manner.”

O’Brien argues that the context of the commentary could lead viewers to believe that the people featured in the footage had been abused, assaulted or neglected as children. They may also think the subjects were incapable of protecting their children and that they were members of a dysfunctional community.

“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,” said O’Brien in a statement. “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.”

The Channel Seven report — titled “Aboriginal Adoption, Proposal for White Families Should Take in Abused Kids” — was widely condemned and led to protests due to its lack of Aboriginal voices. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) concluded that the segment breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice.

A Channel Seven spokesperson told Business Insider Australia in an emailed statement: “The proceedings relate to some footage used in the background to the story which was blurred to prevent any person being identified and Seven is able to defend the case on that basis. We can’t comment further as the matter is before the court.”

The case was heard on Friday in Sydney at the Federal Court and it will resume on June 12.

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