Channel Seven settles defamation case with Aboriginal community over Sunrise segment

Calla Wahlquist
Channel Seven settles defamation case with Aboriginal community over Sunrise segment. Images of adults from the Yirrkala community were used in a segment where panellist called for Aboriginal children to be adopted by white families

Channel Seven has settled a defamation claim with members of the Yirrkala Aboriginal community over the use of images of adults from Yirrkala in the backdrop to a controversial Sunrise segment calling for Aboriginal children to be adopted by white families.

The file footage of the Yolgnu community in the Northern Territory was filmed for a health campaign. It aired without permission in the background of a segment on the popular breakfast show in March 2018, in which an all-white panel debated the merits of encouraging white families to “take in abused kids”.

One of the commentators, Prue MacSween, said some children removed from their families in the stolen generations were taken for their own good and “perhaps” the government should do it again.

The network was found to have breached broadcast standards with the “highly offensive” segment and was sanctioned by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Related: Sunrise segment on Indigenous adoption lands Seven in more hot water

On Thursday, the federal court approved a settlement between members of the Yirrkala Aboriginal Community and the television network, after members of the community sued for defamation, breach of privacy, breach of confidence, race discrimination and breach of Australian consumer law.

In a statement, lawyers for the community said the claimants would receive an undisclosed amount of compensation, and Channel Seven was ordered to pay their legal costs. Channel Seven also agreed to give a public apology.

“Our clients are extremely happy with the resolution ,” lawyer Peter O’Brien said. “The broadcasting of a public apology by Channel 7 will go a long way to resolving the hurt, shame and distress that our clients and the Yolngu people generally have endured as a result of the misuse of this footage.

“It is our hope that media companies generally will exercise more care and respect in the future as to the use of footage of Aboriginal persons.”

In a statement, Channel Seven said it was pleased the matter had been resolved.

“The settlement was mentioned in court this morning but as not finalised we’re unable to say more at the moment apart from saying we’re pleased,” a spokesman said.