Sunrise segment in breach of Code

A controversial Sunrise segment which led to protests from Indigenous communities has been found to be in breach of the Code of Practice, but Seven may appeal the finding.

The March segment which discussed a newspaper story about claiming Indigenous children could only be placed with relatives or other Indigenous families, was inaccurate and in breach of the Code.

At the centre of the breach was this exchange:

Sam Armytage : Prue, I guess post-Stolen Generation there’s been this huge move to leave Aboriginal children where they are, even if they’re being neglected in their own families. Should white families be allowed to adopt at-risk Aboriginal children?

Prue MacSween: …to think that we would knowingly – and the statistics prove it – knowing that we’re going to leave them in these dangerous environments is just not on.

While Seven maintained the segment repeated a statement from the Courier Mail, media watchdog the Australian Communications and Media Authority concluded  that would have conveyed to viewers that current rules provide that Indigenous children can only be placed with relatives or other Indigenous families, and not with non-Indigenous carers.

It ruled that as inaccurate and said Seven should have taken steps to verify it before it was used for a panel discussion.

The ACMA investigation also found that the segment provoked serious contempt on the basis of race in breach of the Code as it contained strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group. These included sweeping references to a ‘generation’ of young Indigenous children being abused. While it may not have been Seven’s intention, by implication the segment conveyed that children left in Indigenous families would be abused and neglected, in contrast to non-Indigenous families where they would be protected.

The segment led to ongoing community protests outside Sunrise studios and on the Gold Coast, with demands for an apology and sackings.

“Broadcasters can, of course, discuss matters of public interest, including extremely sensitive topics such as child abuse in Indigenous communities. However, such matters should be discussed with care, with editorial framing to ensure compliance with the Code,” said ACMA Chair, Nerida O’Loughlin.

“The ACMA considers that the high threshold for this breach finding was met, given the strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group,” added Ms O’Loughlin.

ACMA noted a follow-up segment broadcast by Sunrise the following week was a more informed discussion but did not correct the earlier error appropriately.

Since the community backlash over the segment, Prue MacSween has not appeared as a commentator on Sunrise.

ACMA says it is in discussions with Seven about its response to the breach noting that Seven may yet appeal the finding.

Update: Statement from Craig McPherson, Director of News and Public Affairs:

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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 finding seeks to rule out issues and topics for discussion segments, as determined by ACMA. Its 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.

“The 7 Network will be seeking a judicial appeal.”

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