By Marcus Honesta.
“A Nation’s greatness is measured by how we treat our weakest members.”
Mohandas Gandhi uttered these unforgettable words in a speech he delivered in 1931. The sensibility he spoke of then is just as important today.
As a society, we will be judged by how we treat and show compassion for those who cannot protect or fend for themselves. Earlier this year, in March, those dolts at the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) weighed into a delicate matter, as reported in a segment aired on Channel Seven’s Sunrise programme. They accused Sunrise of breaching the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice and opened an “own motion” investigation into the network’s compliance with the code in relation to the segment. ACMA actions are a worrying overreach against free speech. It represents the sledgehammer of political correctness branding well-intentioned citizens with the odious tag of racism, and ensuring others will continue to ignore or skirt around some of the most important issues confronting this country.
The interim findings were published earlier this week, but more of this later. If you are wondering just what this code of practice The Seven Network might have breached, in part, it states the following:
- News and Current Affairs
3.1 Scope and Interpretation
- 1.1 Except where otherwise indicated, this section applies to news programs (including news flashes and updates) and Current Affairs Programs.
- 1.2 Compliance with this Section 3 must be assessed taking into account all of the circumstances at the time of preparing and broadcasting the material, including:
- a) The facts known, or readily ascertainable, at that time;
- b) The context of the segment (or Program Promotion) in its entirety; and
- c) The time pressures associated with the preparation and broadcast of such programming.
3.2 Material which may cause distress
3.2.1 In broadcasting a news or Current Affairs Program, a Licensee must:
- a) Not include material which, in the reasonable opinion of the Licensee, is likely to seriously distress or seriously offend a substantial number of viewers, having regard to the likely audience of the Program, unless there is a public interest reason to do so; and
- b) Include a spoken warning before a segment that contains material which, in the reasonable opinion of the Licensee, is likely to seriously distress or seriously offend a substantial number of viewers having regard to the likely audience of the Program; and
Presumably, it was section 3.2.1 (a) that caused the ACMA such offence.
The nation’s greatest shame and one of its most persistently unmet challenges — indigenous disadvantage and child welfare — is apparently too sensitive for most of us to discuss. We are well down the path of making it too dangerous for anybody to discuss lest they are branded racist; so the dilemma will be ignored or swept under the carpet.
The original storm, which erupted in March, was over a segment the Sunrise programme aired about the desperate plight of some Aboriginal children. The segment I’m referring to was about Aboriginal adoption that aired on Channel Seven’s breakfast show. The furore created by the discussion between the media commentator Prue MacSween and Brisbane radio host Ben Davis about a proposal by the Federal Government to change adoption policies for Indigenous children was astonishing.
Keyboard warriors went into meltdown over the content. Some described it as “appalling”, “nationally shameful” and “blatantly racist”.
It all came about because the children’s minister David Gillespie argued that white families should be allowed to adopt abused Aboriginal children to save them from rape, assault and neglect.
MacSween said: “It would be crazy to even contemplate people arguing against this.”
Black, white or mixed-race, there is an absolute duty of care, owed to all. And anyone who wishes to exploit the plight of others for their own political or social purpose is beneath our moral contempt.
“We can’t have another generation of young indigenous children being abused in this way, and this conspiracy of silence and fabricated PC outlook that it’s better to leave them in this dangerous environment”.
“Don’t worry about the people who decry and handwring and say that this will be another Stolen Generation”.
“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, perhaps.”
The 4BC presenter Ben Davis praised Minister Gillespie for “standing up and saying what a lot of politicians are afraid to say out of fear of being labelled as racist.
“We need to protect kids; we need to protect Aboriginal kids and put them back into that culture. What culture are they growing up seeing?
Well, they’re getting abused, they’re getting hurt and they’re getting damaged.”
Armytage wrapped up the segment by concluding, “let’s hope some sense prevails”.
That’s when all hell broke loose and social media went into meltdown. Many questioned, among other things, why there wasn’t an Indigenous representative on the panel.
At the heart of this nanny state restriction on free speech is sanctimony from the so-called elites who take a dim view of their fellow Australians. Mainstream Australians have a far better understanding of these issues and a far greater capacity for genuine concern and practical support than many of those living in the ivory towers will ever comprehend. Just because they don’t speak in the same platitudinous talking points should not disqualify them from making a contribution.
However, these social media blockheads have missed the point. All the talk, social indignation and socio-political moralising miss the fact that these children are in desperate danger right now. They (the children) are facing a clear and present danger NOW.
We mustn’t allow them to languish in – potentially fatal – poverty amidst a sea of hyperbole and political posturing.
If this weren’t enough to make the point, consider what one of the world’s greatest statesmen, Nelson Mandela, said: “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.”
We know most people lack courage in public debate. From politicians and bureaucrats to police and church leaders, too many take the easy path of politically correct adulation rather than dealing in harsh realities, unpalatable truths and the opprobrium they can invite. ACMA has just added to that trend.
I fear that while vocal liberal-political do-gooders and activists pronounce their care, they are becoming entrapped in their own social fury, which actually risks slowing down progress on an urgent issue.
As a background to the whole affair, more than 20 notifications were made to child services about a Tennant Creek household, where a two-year-old girl was allegedly raped, but Territory Families maintains there were “no specific concerns”.
The toddler was allegedly raped in the outback town, about 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs, last week. Territory Families has confirmed that the department received 21 notifications about the household dating back to August 2015, but only six had been substantiated. The child’s uncle, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said eight notifications had been made to child services in the two months leading up to the incident.
According to the Bureau of Crime Statistics, the numbers of sexual offence cases involving children under 16 years in the Northern Territories are as follows:
- 2013: 118
- 2014: 125
- 2015: 149
- 2016: 163
- 2017: 149
- 2018 (to Jan 31): 10
Chief Executive of Territory Families Ken Davies said that reports were made about the household, related to domestic violence and alcohol.
He said that: “In terms of the notifications we received, there were no specific concerns that came to Territory Families about particular harm to this child of a sexual nature.
“They were not substantial enough to take the child out of this household and away from the mother. . . What we did was where these issues were substantiated, we responded and we put in family support services to support the family and the mother in that household.” But this was and is obviously not enough.
But back to ACMA. They found that Channel Seven Sydney breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice in a Sunrise “Hot Topics” segment, broadcast on the 13th of March, 2018. The ACMA found that the introduction to the segment, claiming that Indigenous children could “only be placed with relatives or other Indigenous families”, was inaccurate and in breach of the code. The licensee explained that they had repeated a statement from a newspaper of the day. However, the ACMA considered that Channel Seven should have taken steps to verify the accuracy of this claim before it was used as the foundation for a panel discussion.
The ACMA noted that the follow-up “Hot Topics” segment, broadcast by Channel Seven on the 20th of March 2018, was a more informed discussion in which a panellist accurately described the true position regarding the placement of Indigenous children. However, the ACMA found that the follow-up segment did not correct the earlier error in an appropriate manner, under the circumstances.
The ACMA investigation also found that the segment provoked serious contempt on the basis of race, which is 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 Channel 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.
ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin
ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said: “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.
“The ACMA considers that the high threshold for this breach finding was met, given the strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group.”
The ACMA is in discussions with Channel Seven about its response to the breach findings. Channel Seven has indicated that it may seek a judicial review of the ACMA’s decision.
ACMA said: “Seven should have taken steps to verify the accuracy of this claim before it was used as the foundation for a panel discussion.”
During the segment, children’s minister David Gillespie argued that white families should be allowed to adopt abused Aboriginal children to save them from rape, assault and neglect, while MacSween said it would be “crazy to even contemplate people arguing against this”.
In its statement, the ACMA added: “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 ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin also commented: “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.”
In response to the ACMA, Channel Seven released its own statement; with the director of news and public affairs Craig McPherson claiming that the broadcaster is “extremely disappointed” in the ACMA.
“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.”
Channel Seven went on to say that the segment was balanced by a follow-up segment, which included leading analysts.
“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 programmes, newspapers and talkback radio.”
These findings alone show just how hopelessly ACMA are out of touch with both mainstream reality and the desperate plight of these poor children. This alone is a savage incitement of their lack of compassion and public decency. Nerida O’Loughlin is typical of the faceless career bureaucrats who live in the rarefied bubble that is Canberra. Ms O’Loughlin, do us all a favour and resign. The Prime Minister should shut down the ACMA and save taxpayers the fortune the ACMA costs to run each year.