Lawyers representing an Indigenous group who are suing Channel Seven feel confident after the TV network failed to stop the lawsuit going ahead.
Yolngu woman Kathy Mununggurr and 14 others from the remote Northern Territory community of Yirrkala are suing Channel Seven for defamation over a controversial breakfast show segment.
The lawsuit alleges that the Sunrise program defamed the applicants by playing slightly blurred background footage of them during a controversial panel discussion which aired in March 2018.
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 broadcaster Ben Davis agreed.
The background footage was originally filmed with consent for a health promotion in Yirrkala – a small Aboriginal community approximately 700km east of Darwin.
The Yolngu group claims that by using the footage for a segment about child abuse, Sunrise implied that they had abused, assaulted or neglected children.
They also claim Seven breached their confidence and privacy by using the footage for a different purpose than intended, and breached consumer laws by acting unconscionably.
The TV network tried and failed to strike out the lawsuit at a Federal Court hearing in Sydney on Wednesday.
Seven’s barrister Kieran Smark, SC, argued there were issues with claiming those in the footage could be identified.
Justice Steven Rares disagreed, and said Indigenous communities in remote parts of Australia, particularly the Northern Territory, were "much more integrated than the suburbs of this country".
"You've got a whole community up there, most of whom will be able to recognise each other, some of whom watch Sunrise," he said.
The judge rejected the request to strike out the claim and ordered Seven to pay the costs of the hearing.
Lawyers for the Yolgnu group described the hearing as a “victory” ahead of an anticipated trial later this year.
“There are many rounds yet to go but we are feeling confident that we’ve got a strong claim,” said Peter O’Brien, principal solicitor of O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors.