The Herald Sun has been forced to publish two humiliating double-page corrections spelling out why two of Andrew Bolt’s articles shamed light-skinned members of the Aboriginal community.

In handing down his official orders this morning in a landmark racial discrimination case pitting Bolt against nine prominent indigenous people, Federal Court judge Mordy Bromberg ordered that on two occasions in the next 14 days Herald Sun publisher Herald & Weekly Times must run — both in the paper’s print edition and online — a corrective notice that explains why Bolt and the company contravened the Racial Discrimination Act. Two 2009 articles — “It’s so hip to be black” and “White fellas in the black” — were found to have breached the act.

The paper has confirmed it won’t appeal the decision, but it says it will lobby federal politicians to change the law.

The corrections will have to be the same or similar size as Bolt’s regular column, which runs bi-weekly over two pages in the Herald Sun‘s editorial section. The Herald Sun will be able to keep the two offending articles online for “archival” purposes but must include the corrective notice in close proximity, presumably below or above them.

A mock-up of what the correction may look like

Reflecting Bromberg’s earlier judgement of contravention handed down late last month, the corrective notice states the articles were “reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate some Aboriginal persons of mixed descent” and that the articles were “not written or published reasonably and in good faith”, disallowing Bolt a free speech exemption under 18D of the RDA.

Eatock had sought an apology from HWT, but citing his earlier reasons for judgement Bromberg was not persuaded “that I should compel HWT to articulate a sentiment that is not genuinely held”.

In their submissions, Bolt, who did not appear in court, and HWT had argued against the corrective notice because extensive media coverage of the “guilty” verdict meant Eatock and co had achieved vindication. But Bromberg noted that while most Victorians would be aware Bolt and HWT had broken the law, the corrective notice served “a wider informational and educative purpose”.

Bromberg said the correction would redress the hurt felt by those injured, restore esteem and social standing, inform the public of the gravity of the wrongdoing and help prevent racism.

HWT will also be forced to pay Eatock’s costs, which could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, in a Pyrrhic victory for HWT, Eatock will have to stump for the costs of a directions hearing and trial preparation over a 10-week period last year. Legal sources contacted by Crikey said that amount would be minor in comparison to the full cost of the associated lead-up work to the trial that ran for eight days in March and April.

Both parties made submissions on the judgement two weeks ago and were at loggerheads over whether the declaration should reflect the court’s findings, the terms of an injunction restraining republication, the terms of the corrective notice and the costs issue given the offer of settlement made by Bolt and HWT prior to the trial’s commencement.

The HWT statement released early this afternoon said that “… it is our view that section 18 of the Racial Discrimination Act overly detracts from free speech and should be revisited by the legislature.”

“We will continue to engage in community debate and discussion to ensure free speech is protected.

“We reiterate our belief that all Australians should have the right to express their opinions freely, even where their opinions are controversial or unpopular to some in the community.”

Peter Fray

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