Residents from a remote Aboriginal community are suing Seven West Media for defamation over a controversial breakfast show segment about the Stolen Generations.
The lawsuit, filed in the Federal Court, alleges that the Sunrise program defamed the 15 applicants by playing slightly blurred background footage of them during a controversial panel discussion.
TV presenter Samantha Armytage introduced the 'Hot Topics' segment by incorrectly stating that Aboriginal children at “risk of rape, assault and neglect” could not be adopted by white families.
Conservative commentator Prue MacSween suggested they should be taken from their families "just like the first Stolen Generation" and radio presenter Ben Davis agreed.
The segment, which aired on March 13 last year, lead to protests outside the show’s studio in Sydney and during an episode filmed on the Gold Coast. The offensive comments were found to be in breach of television codes of practice.
A separate Indigenous group also filed a racial discrimination complaint to the Human Rights Commission.
The background footage was originally filmed with consent for a health promotion in Yirrkala – a small Aboriginal community approximately 700km east of Darwin.
However, lawyers for the Yolngu group said their clients “remained readily identifiable” and that the presentation implied they had abused, assaulted or neglected children.
“Our clients are extremely unhappy with being recklessly depicted in such a negative manner,” said Peter O’Brien, principal solicitor of O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors.
“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.
“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.”
A Seven spokesman told NITV News: “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.
“It is unrelated to the ACMA ruling which is being dealt with separately. We can’t comment further as the matter is before the court.”