Sunrise pinged over controversial 'stolen generation' segment
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Sunrise pinged over controversial 'stolen generation' segment

The television watchdog has given the Seven Network a slap on the wrist after Sunrise's controversial segment about Aboriginal adoption.

Earlier this year, Samantha Armytage hosted a "Hot Topics" segment in which she claimed Aboriginal children at risk of rape, assault and neglect could only be placed "with relatives or other Indigenous families".

The panel also featured Prue MacSween, who said a "fabricated PC outlook" was preventing white Australians from adopting Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander children. The conservative commentator - who last year said she was tempted to "run over" former ABC host Yassmin Abdel-Magied - also suggested there needed to be a second stolen generation.

The segment, which aired on March 13, sparked intense backlash including protests outside the Sunrise studios at Sydney's Martin Place and during an outside broadcast on the Gold Coast.

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On Tuesday, the Australian Communications and Media Authority ruled Seven had breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2015 by including both a factual inaccuracy as well as inciting contempt or ridicule on the basis of someone's race.

David Koch and Samantha Armytage.

David Koch and Samantha Armytage.Credit:Seven Network

Seven's broadcast of the claim that Indigenous children could only be adopted by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families was found to be inaccurate. According to government figures, of the four Indigenous children adopted between 2016 and 2017, three went to non-Indigenous families.

In its defence, Seven said the segment was sparked by a headline in the Courier Mail. However, ACMA determined there should have been clearer attribution and a reasonable person would believe Armytage's claim to be a statement of fact.

The watchdog found Seven did not make an "appropriate" correction despite Sunrise airing a follow-up segment featuring an all-Indigenous panel in the following days.

"Had the presenter explicitly acknowledged the inaccurate statement from the previous episode and corrected that statement, the ACMA would have been satisfied that the correction was made in an appropriate manner," the watchdog ruled.

Protesters outside Channel 7 Studios in Sydney.

Protesters outside Channel 7 Studios in Sydney.Credit:AAP

ACMA also found the segment incited contempt because it "directed very strong negative feelings towards Indigenous people, even though this may not have been the licensee's intention". In response, Seven said its commentators were motivated by a concern for people's welfare – but the watchdog said Armytage should have done more to challenge their views.

"ACMA understands the panellists generally have little time to prepare for the discussion and questions whether a subject as important and complex as the welfare of Indigenous children can be appropriately addressed in such a format," the watchdog said in its ruling.

Seven's director of news, Craig McPherson, said in a statement he was "extremely disappointed" by ACMA's decision.

"While the ACMA recognises the segment was underpinned by concern for the welfare of Indigenous children, it has isolated comments from independent commentators without any context to the broader coverage given to this topic," he said.

"The coverage included a detailed follow-up segment on Sunrise featuring expert analysis from leading Aboriginal leaders and academics who expressed appreciation this issue was finally being raised in mainstream media.

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"The irony is that the very issue the commentators were critical of, that is political correctness preventing meaningful discussion and action, has come to bear with this finding.

"[The] decision is a form of censorship; a direct assault on the workings of an independent media and the thousands of issue-based segments covered every year by Sunrise, other like programs, newspapers and talkback radio."

Seven is planning to fight the claims in court.

ACMA chair Nerida O'Loughlin said in a statement broadcasters should discuss matters of public interest, but topics such as child abuse in Indigenous communities should be treated responsibly.

"The ACMA considers that the high threshold for this breach finding was met, given the strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group," she said.

One of the people to complain about the Sunrise segment was NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge. He told Fairfax Media he welcomed ACMA's ruling.

"The broadcast incited an intense dislike... on the basis of race," he said. "No commercial TV broadcaster should ever be doing that. It's remarkable that Channel Seven didn't acknowledge that at the outset. It's even more troubling they are threatening a judicial review."

It's not the first time stories and discussions about race have landed broadcasters in hot water.

A 2012 segment on Nine's A Current Affair called "All-Asian Mall" was found to have breached ACMA's rules by giving the impression that Asian shopkeepers were "taking over" a north-west Sydney shopping centre. It was found to likely "provoke intense dislike and serious contempt on the grounds of ethnic origin" and contain factual inaccuracies.

Several years earlier, the watchdog pinged 2GB's Alan Jones due to his comments on the 2005 Cronulla riots. Jones was found to have made comments "likely to encourage violence or brutality and to vilify" those of Lebanese and Middle Eastern backgrounds.

Fairfax Media, the publisher of this website, is the majority owner of Macquarie Media, the broadcaster of 2GB.

Broede Carmody is an entertainment reporter at Fairfax Media.

Jennifer Duke writes about media and telecommunications.