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Seven, Samantha Armytage and Prue MacSween to be sued over 2018 ‘Stolen Generations 2.0’ panel

Seven West Media, Sunrise host Samantha Armytage and media personality Prue MacSween have been threatened with a racial vilification law suit in the Federal Court over a widely-condemned 2018 Sunrise segment on Indigenous adoption.

A group of Aboriginal Elders filed a racial discrimination complaint in the Australian Human Rights Commission in response to the segment, in which MacSween said: “Just like the first Stolen Generation, where a lot of children were taken because it was for their wellbeing, we need to do it again”.

“Post-Stolen Generation, there’s been a huge move to leave Aboriginal children where they are, even if they’re being neglected in their own families,” Armytage also said on the panel, which featured MacSween and radio host Ben Davis.

The panel

In a media release issued yesterday, Susan Moriarty and Associates – the law firm representing the Aboriginal Elders – said settlement negotiations related to the Human Rights Commission case had collapsed, leading to proposed Federal Court action. Court documents to initiate the proceedings do not appear to be filed yet.

In 2018, Australian Communications and Media Authority found the segment breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice as it was inaccurate and provoked racial contempt. Seven criticised the ruling, and instigated court proceedings against the watchdog, before ultimately backing away from legal action.

“We are extremely disappointed the ACMA has seen fit to cast a label on a segment that covered an important matter of public interest, child abuse, sparked by comments attributed to a government minister and widely circulated in the press on the morning of the broadcast,” director of news and public affairs Craig McPherson said at the time.

Members of the Yirrkala Aboriginal community who featured in unrelated file footage broadcast during the segment also commenced defamation proceedings. That court case was settled in December last year for an undisclosed sum, with Seven ordered to pay for their legal costs, and agreeing to issue a public apology.

The panel’s comments were “deeply hurtful and harmful to Aboriginal Australians and their families”, according to yesterday’s Susan Moriarty & Associates statement. Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, who is leading the complaint, said pursuing the matter is a part of the fight for “justice and to end racism in Australia”.

“This nation-wide broadcast by Channel 7 in March 2018 was another symbol of national shame and another appalling example of the deeply entrenched virus of racism that still plagues white platforms of privilege in this country,” she said.

“We say that community standards have changed, and this racism must be called out, there must be zero tolerance, it is not acceptable anymore – especially by a national broadcaster who should no better.”

In response to the recent death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer, protests have been held globally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last weekend, rallies were held across Australia decrying Indigenous deaths in custody and racism towards First Nations people as part of that wave of protests.

Aunty Rhonda noted that the ABC’s political analysis program Insiders, which aired on Sunday morning following the protests, featured three white people discussing Indigenous issues. But this was at least acknowledged by host David Speers, she said. And this weekend, ABC reporter and Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta woman Bridget Brennan will appear on the program.

In contrast, Sunrise “platformed wealthy white women calling for a Stolen Generations 2.0”.

“This shameful, profoundly hurtful and devastating display of racism was broadcast by a commercial television station into homes right across Australia,” Aunty Rhonda said.

“Channel 7’s subsequent disingenuous downcast eyes and ‘we’re so sorry’ murmurs, after we protested and their racism was called out, mean nothing to us when they refuse all reasonable requests for proper reparation.

“How Samantha Armytage continues on a program that hopes to speak to all Australians in light of her previous slip up in 2015 about racial preferencing speaks louder than all the fake empathy and ‘regret’.”

The 2015 segment to which Aunty Rhonda refers involved Armytage and co-host David Koch interviewing a British set of twins.

“The Aylmer twins come from a mixed race family in the UK,” Armytage said.

“Maria has taken after her half-Jamaican mum with dark skin, brown eyes and curly, dark hair but Lucy got her dad’s fair skin – good on her! – along with straight red hair and blue eyes.”

The comments from five years ago resurfaced this week. The clip went viral after being posted and circulated in the US, seeing ‘Samantha Armytage’ trend on Twitter.

Mumbrella approached Seven for a comment on the planned Federal Court action.

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