Australian columnist 'offended, insulted, humiliated' fair-skinned Aborigines

Friday, September 30, 2011

Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt has been found in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act, following a pair of newspaper articles in 2009 where Bolt criticised fair-skinned people identifying as Aborigines.

Australia's Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg said "I am satisfied that fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were reasonably likely ... to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed by the newspaper articles," Justice Bromberg said. "People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying."

The articles, titled "It's so hip to be black" and "White fellas in the black", were published by the Herald Sun and Weekly Times in 2009, in addition to two blog posts published on the Herald Sun's website.

The nine plaintiffs were jubilant following delivery of the verdict. Taking legal action against Mr Bolt were former ATSIC member Geoff Clark, academic Larissa Behrendt, native title expert Graham Atkinson, academic Wayne Atkinson, lawyer Mark McMillan, activist Pat Eatock and artist Bindi Cole. They argued Bolt's articles offended, upset and demeaned them while implying they identified as Aboriginal Australians for personal gain.

Bolt's lawyer, Neil Young, argued in court that the articles were a genuine reflection of his client's beliefs and were published in the public interest. "Everything that's said, even if it's expressed colourfully, is rationally related to a thesis that's a matter of public interest," Mr Young had said.

Bolt said his writings were fair and within the provisions of free speech laws. Ron Merkel, QC, for the complainants, said his clients did not target free speech, stating that while Bolt is free to express his views, he should not have attacked the nine individuals named in the articles.

Justice Bromberg told the court Bolt's articles would have offended a reasonable member of the Aboriginal community, adding that the articles were factually incorrect and not written with good faith. "I am satisfied that each of Mr Bolt and the Herald & Weekly Times engaged in conduct which contravened section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act."

Bolt described the verdict as "a terrible day for free speech in this country," adding "It is particularly a restriction on the freedom of all Australians to discuss multiculturalism and how people identify themselves,"

Ms Eatock, a prominent activist and the chief plaintiff, said she was not confident of receiving an apology from Mr Bolt. "I will never get an apology from Mr Bolt. He made that clear giving his evidence earlier in the year," she said. "But we will, I hope, get some sort of acknowledgment through the press that what he wrote was just unacceptable, totally unacceptable. He set out to offend from the word go and in fact he acknowledged that in his evidence."