• A screen capture of a 9 news promo for Palm Island story (ABC Media Watch)Source: ABC Media Watch
A large group of Palm Island community members take their complaint against two commercial media companies to the Human Rights Commission.
Mikele Syron

25 Aug 2020 - 2:17 PM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2020 - 1:10 PM
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised this article contains the names of people who have died.

Hundreds of Palm Islanders have lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission over racist reports published by two media companies. 

Channel Nine and the Daily Mail online news site published two stories in May. The stories were both concerned with how members of the remote island community were spending money awarded to them in compensation as part of a settlement agreement with the Queensland state government in 2018 for events that occurred following the death in custody of Cameron “Mulrunji” Doomadgee.

The Channel Nine report implied that the community members were irresponsibly spending the $30 million in compensation, which it labeled, “taxpayer money”. The news organisation claimed its story was a "major investigation" and went on to describe some of the community members as "dodgy claimants". 

The Daily Mail story alleged that the compensation was “blown” on a variety of luxury goods including “boats, high-performance sports cars, and four-wheel drives”.

Lex Wotton, a community member who initiated the 2015 proceedings, told NITV News on Friday that he was disappointed with the negative way Channel Nine portrayed his community.

"They didn't put one positive thing in their reports about the compensation being a just outcome for us," he said.

Mr Wotton also said that he believed the reports were racially charged and that it is none of the wider Australian communities' business how the claimants choose to spend the money.

"What they also didn't put in the report was that the claim was open to 2000 people and only 447 people applied ... People spent their money on a whole variety of things that improved their lives, but they didn't report that either," said Mr Wotton.

Recipients of the compensation told ABC News on Friday that they felt unfairly portrayed by the two media organisations and that they believed it was racial.

Some of the claimants said they believed that the reports breached section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The class-action documentation signed also states that if the conciliation is not reached via the Human Rights Commission process, the claimants will seek to sue the media organisations through the court. 

In 2016, two years before the record settlement with the Queensland government, the Federal Court ruled that the Queensland Police had breached the Racial Discrimination Act with the death of Cameron “Mulrunji” Doomadgee and their handling of the subsequent riots which caused the community members great unrest.

Lawyer for the claimants, Stewart Levitt, said that the reports had been fact-checked and were found to be inaccurate and labelled the implication that they should not have the benefit of compensation and that they were spending it irresponsibly as offensive and racist. 

"Not a single claim in those reports can be made out. Even before the program aired, the promo material caused great outrage and upset... In fact, one of the boats that was depicted to reinforce their claims had been owned for several years before the Palm Island payout," Mr Levitt told NITV News. 

A representative for Channel Nine told NITV News they would not be making any comment on this matter. 

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