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Peta Credlin’s apology to South Sudanese community result of human rights commission complaint

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Complaint related to segment in which the Sky News host incorrectly linked community to a Covid outbreak and an apology made three days later

Sky News host Peta Credlin’s apology to the South Sudanese community for comments which incorrectly linked them to a Covid-19 outbreak was a condition of a resolution to a human rights commission complaint against her.

On Friday, Credlin issued a four-minute on-air apology for blaming the community for an outbreak in Melbourne and making other harmful comments.

Her apology came almost 18 months after the offending statements were broadcast on 26 June 2020.

Two individuals, who were also acting on behalf of other members of the community, made a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission on 3 November 2020 regarding Credlin and Australian News Channel (ANC), the company which operates Sky News Australia.

Related: Sky News host Peta Credlin issues lengthy apology to South Sudanese community over Covid comments

The complaint related to the 26 June 2020 segment, and an apology Credlin made three days later.

The complainants alleged the segments were discriminatory, contrary to s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and lodged a complaint on behalf of themselves and “other members of the South Sudanese community in Victoria who are aggrieved by the making and broadcasting of the Credlin Imputations”.

A lawyer for the complainants, Charles Reichman, confirmed to Guardian Australia that the complaint had been resolved.

The conditions of the resolution include that ANC and Credlin agreed to broadcast the apology and two further segments on the South Sudanese community. Credlin said in her apology that they would be “positive” news stories about the community.

The complainants can not be identified and no further action can be taken against ANC or Credlin under the agreement, Reichman said. If the complaint had not been resolved, action could have been taken in the federal court.

Ron Merkel QC, who was involved in a similar complaint made against Andrew Bolt on behalf of Indigenous Australians a decade ago, was also involved in the claim.

Sky News was contacted for comment. The Human Rights Commission declined to comment.

Credlin claimed during her segments that the Victorian government’s health orders could not be understood by the South Sudanese community because many of them did not speak English.

She claimed while South Sudanese migrants could speak Dinka, many of them – especially women – could not read it because they were banned from attending school in their homeland.

“This just underscores why new migrants need to urgently learn English … so that they can quickly become part of mainstream Australian society,” she said at the time.

She also said the Covid outbreak had been caused by Ramadan dinners within the community, despite the vast majority of the community being Christian, not Muslim.

Credlin said in her apology on Friday that she had not intended to cause hurt or offence to the community.

“In June last year, while commenting on the Covid-19 pandemic, the escalation of new infections in Victoria, and various public health measures, I incorrectly linked the South Sudanese community to a cluster of cases that had developed following an end-of-Ramadan dinner in Melbourne’s northern suburbs,” Credlin told viewers on Friday night.

Related: Alan Jones and his outrage inevitably go the way of his ratings | Denis Muller for the Conversation

“This was factually wrong, and I again deeply regret the error. On the basis of that error, I made various other statements that I accept have caused genuine hurt and offence to South Sudanese community members. It was not my intention.

“My statements were understood to mean that the South Sudanese community had been reckless, irresponsible, or even deliberate, in breaching social distancing requirements, that the community had failed to adapt its cultural practices like other Australians, and that this was putting Australians at risk. I do not believe there was any truth to those inferences.”

South Sudanese community leaders who spoke to Guardian Australia on Monday, including some who said they had met Credlin and other senior Sky figures after the segment last year, said the apology did not mend the damage caused by the comments.

Ring Mayar, the president of the South Sudanese Community Association in Victoria, said that while the apology was a win for the community, and Australians generally who are vilified by the media, he was upset it had only been made after a complaint was lodged to the commission.

“[The apology] didn’t come out of her heart,” he said.

“It’s not her decision; it’s because she was forced to apologise out of the agreement.”

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