Commentator breaks Australian discrimination law

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CANBERRA, Australia — A popular right-wing commentator was found guilty Wednesday of breaking Australian discrimination law by implying that fair-skinned Aborigines chose to identify as indigenous for profit and career advancement.

Federal Court Justice Mordy Bromberg ruled that fair-skinned Aborigines were likely to have been “offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations” included in columnist Andrew Bolt’s two articles published by the Herald Sun newspaper in Melbourne in 2009.

Bromberg ruled out Bolt and his publisher’s defense under a clause of the Racial Discrimination Act that exempts “fair comment.” Bromberg said he will prohibit reproduction of the offending articles and will consider ordering the newspaper to publish a correction if it doesn’t print an apology.

Bolt, who writes opinion pieces for newspapers around Australia and hosts a nationally broadcast weekly public affairs television program, described the ruling as a defeat for freedom of speech.

“This is a terrible day for free speech in this country,” he told reporters outside court. “It is particularly a restriction on the freedom of all Australians to discuss multiculturalism and how people identify themselves.”

But Aboriginal activist Pat Eatock, who filed the court action, said Bolt’s two articles “were not professional journalism.”

“He set out to offend from the word ‘go,’” she said.

The judge said his orders would not suggest it was illegal to challenge the genuineness of people’s racial identification. Bolt and the newspaper broke the law because the articles “contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language,” Bromberg said.

Printed on September 29, 2011 as: Australian courts: columnist guilty of discrimination