CANBERRA (Reuters) - A News Corp-owned newspaper in Australia and one of its most prominent columnists were found guilty on Wednesday of breaching national race laws over articles arguing that fair-skinned Aborigines often said they were black for personal gain.
In a blow to Australian-born Rupert Murdoch’s under-fire newspaper business, a judge found some Aborigines were likely to have been “offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated” by columnist Andrew Bolt, writing in the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper.
The articles, written in 2009, were headlined “It’s so hip to be black” and “White fellas in the black.”
Federal Court judge Mordecai Bromberg, ruling on a class-action bought by nine aboriginal applicants including leading indigenous activist and leader Geoff Clark, found Bolt and his publisher, The Herald and Weekly Times, had contravened Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act.
Speaking outside the court after the decision, Bolt described the verdict as “a terrible day for free speech in this country.”
“It is particularly a restriction on the freedom of all Australians to discuss multiculturalism and how people identify themselves,” he told journalists.
During the trial Bolt argued that he did not try to incite racial hatred, but the judge ruled the Racial Discrimination Act tried to promote racial tolerance and equality, and the two columns had breached those aims.
The articles had “contained errors in fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language,” he said.
The judge told the parties to meet and discuss what action the court should make.
Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the population. They suffer higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence than other Australians, as well as having a 17-year gap in life expectancy.
The United Nations’ top rights watchdog, U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, in May criticized Australia’s treatment of outback Aborigines and said there was a strong undercurrent of racism in the country.
The Herald and Weekly Times, publisher of the Herald Sun and part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp empire, did not immediately say if it would appeal the decision, which comes after the mobile phone hacking scandal in Britain.
The court decision also came after the government on September 14 announced an inquiry into media regulations and standards.
Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Daniel Magnowski