• Aboriginal Elders took their first step in resolving a complaint made last year to the Australian Human Rights Commission against a controversial TV segment. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A complaint made by a group of Elders and high profile rights activists about an offensive breakfast television segment will go before the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Brooke Fryer

21 Oct 2019 - 2:46 PM  UPDATED 21 Oct 2019 - 2:47 PM

A complaint made last year by Aboriginal Elders and activists over an "abhorrent" breakfast show segment on  adoption policies for Indigenous children which aired on the Seven Network went before the Australian human rights commission on Friday. 

Gadigal and Yuin Elder Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor and Elder Debra Swan lodged the group complaint in September last year, alongside a number of co-signatories, including award-winning writer, producer and actress Trisha Morton-Thomas, and Indigenous women Lynda-June Coe, Ruby Wharton and Gomeroi man Cameron Manning.

In a statement at the time, Ms Dixon-Grovenor said that she went ahead with the complaint because she found the segment on the breakfast show to be "incredibly hurtful". 

During the ‘Hot Topics’ segment on Sunrise in March 2018, regular host Samantha Armytage incorrectly stated that Aboriginal children who are at “risk of rape, assault and neglect” could only be placed "with relatives or other Indigenous families".

Guest panellist Prue MacSween then suggested there needed to be another Stolen Generations to protect the “wellbeing’” of Indigenous children. Fellow panellist, broadcaster Ben Davis agreed.

The panel included no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.

The segment sparked an outcry from the community with protests held outside the Sunrise studios at Sydney’s Martin Place and during a special broadcast for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

After the segment aired, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) ruled that Channel Seven had breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice by broadcasting false information provoking "serious contempt on the basis of race in breach of the [Commercial Television Industry] Code [of Practice]". 

Now, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) have heard the complaint and will work with the group towards a resolution. 

The group has 60 days to lodge the complaint with the Federal Circuit Court or the Federal Court of Australia if no resolution comes from the conciliation process.

“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,” Ms Dixon-Grovenor said on Friday.

“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”.

Ms Swan, who co-founded Grandmothers Against Removal, said she had spent the last five years working to stop Aboriginal children from being taken away from their families and that the segment went against everything she believed in.

“They obviously did not know what they were talking about and were quite racist in their comments,” she said.

“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.”

Additionally, Channel Seven is being sued by Yolngu woman Kathy Mununggurr and 14 others from the remote Northern Territory community of Yirrkala for defamation over the vision shown during the segment.

The background footage was originally shot with permission from residents to promote positive health initiatives in Yirrkala – a small Aboriginal community 700kms east of Darwin.

The Yolngu group claimed that by using the footage for a segment about child abuse and adoption, Sunrise implied that the children shown had been abused or assaulted.

The network attempted to strike out the lawsuit but failed to do so and were also asked by the judge, Justice Steven Rares, to pay the costs of the hearing.

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