An attempt by New Matilda national affairs correspondent (and Crikey arts writer) Ben Eltham to force News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt to retract a statement viewed by some as a denial of the Stolen Generation has come to naught, with the Press Council today informing him that his complaint would be proceeding no further.
Bolt wrote, in July last year on his blog, that “no one to this day has been able to name even 10 of the children allegedly stolen by officials just for being Aborigines. Even the courts cannot find them, for all the activists now appointed to the judiciary.”
Eltham, in a complaint lodged in August 2015, said this was “demonstrably untrue”, referring to a number of public collections of stories of the Stolen Generation to prove his point, as well as a list of 260 names Robert Manne sent to Andrew Bolt in 2006. “Mr Bolt made a claim that is false and inaccurate … He should retract the statement and apologise to his readers for misleading.”
But in a response from the Press Council director of complaints Paul Nangle, Eltham was told the executive director had decided not to proceed with the complaint, and that a letter to the editor published in the Herald Sun earlier this month (at the facilitation of the Press Council) was enough to address the matter.
In addressing the complaint, Bolt’s publication the Herald Sun argued that Bolt didn’t dispute the fact that Aboriginal children were removed from their homes, but merely questioned the motivation behind this. From the letter sent to Eltham:
“The publication said the article makes a point which is ‘often overlooked in connection with the stolen generations narrative … that Aboriginal children were wrongly removed from their parents simply because they were Aboriginal, when in fact they were removed and provided with welfare and foster care in circumstances where they needed it for their own welfare”.
Nangle added that the Council holds opinion articles to be “entitled to express robust, and at times, provocative views”.
The matter, the letter concluded, was now closed.
Eltham told Crikey this morning that the aforementioned letter, by former director of the New South Wales Aboriginal Trust Fund Repayment Scheme Marilyn Hoey, offers evidence that Bolt had gotten the facts wrong on the issue, which should have been considered by the Press Council:
“Hoey writes that she had ‘unprecedented access’ to the New South Wales government’s records, which were examined ‘forensically.’ She states that ‘I can say without reservation that there are extensive records showing Aboriginal children were removed from their families just for being Aboriginal or, in the language of those records, for being ‘half-caste’. Surely the letter from Marilyn Hoey, a former director of the New South Wales Aboriginal Trust Fund Repayment Scheme, cannot truly be ‘balance’, in the sense of balancing differing opinions or views. Rather, the letter directly and specifically rebuts Bolt’s statement of fact, contending that what he wrote was inaccurate and misleading. Despite this, the Press Council’s Executive Director John Pender ‘has decided not to proceed further’.
“Bolt and Hoey cannot both be right. If the Press Council’s standards of accuracy are to mean anything at all, then the finding for Bolt suggests that the Press Council does not accept the accuracy of Hoey’s letter, despite citing it as a reason for not proceeding with the complaint.”
Eltham adds that he was disappointed with the process — he claims he wasn’t contacted at any stage between lodging a complaint and having it rejected this morning.