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Remembering Salem!

By Pat O'Shane - posted Friday, 20 July 2001


Recently, The Age scandalised the Indigenous communities when it published lurid accounts of sexual assaults allegedly committed by Geoff Clark upon certain named Indigenous women.

Geoff Clark is the elected Chair of the elected peak Indigenous body in the country, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission [ATSIC], a Statutory body set up by Federal legislation.

The key stories focussed upon in The Age were allegations which had been investigated by Police, and which, in the one case, led to charges which were subsequently thrown out of Court; and in the other were not investigated further by Police. In respect of these matters, it should be noted, as a matter of law, that Commissioner Clark now stands completely innocent. He does not stand charged, and therefore has no case to answer on those matters.

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The Age

, in a classic trial by media, has attempted not only to usurp the functions of the criminal justice system – all the way through from investigation, to charging, trialling, and sentencing – but also to turn on its head any semblance of justice.

The implicit argument of media apologists, including the original author, Andrew Rule, is that if the allegations are not true – and the more lurid the descriptions, the more true they must be (as if there are degrees of principles) - then the alleged perpetrator can sue. If he does not sue, then hey, presto! case proved. If he does sue, and does not win his defamation case, then again, case proved. In fact, no proof needed, case proved.

What a travesty! What duplicity!

In attempting to displace the criminal justice system, not only has The Age wrought injustice on Clark, it has also wrought an injustice on the very women whose stories it has published! Further, it has perpetrated a massive fraud on its entire readership.

To elaborate: the women who spoke to The Age did so, no doubt, in the expectation that they would have justice done to their cause (giving them their due benefit of the doubt here: it's a rebuttable presumption, as we say, that their cause is honourable and without any taint of base motivation). That has not happened, and given the fact that trial by media is so superficial, insubstantial, and sensationalist for the sake of sensationalism, it never could have happened. They have been duped, demeaned and dishonoured by the very people (Rule and his ilk) and the very institution (the Fourth Estate) upon which they were depending for a different outcome. They are, furthermore, victims of the racism implicit in the way in which their own stories have been portrayed in The Age.

In that disgusting debacle, Geoff Clark most certainly has no case to answer.

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Trial by media is not the only issue implicit in the article. As I stated to other media last week, equally important matters arising out of the shocking mess are race politics, Indigenous politics, gender politics, and of course, the role and function of the media.

Indigenous politics are extremely complex. Apart from those aspects of politics common to all communities and organisations, all too often Indigenous politics are also interwoven with race politics and non-Indigenous gender politics as well. It is a depressing and debilitating experience of life in Indigenous politics that one can be confronted with reactions, responses, and sometimes, sheer hatred, by those who have internalised racist propaganda. This is most often manifested through a reliance on non-Indigenous interveners, and rejection of Indigenous ideas and actions as being inferior to those of the former cohorts.

When that state of affairs is compounded by the imposition or overlaying of gender politics, derived from non-Indigenous experiences as against Indigenous experiences, then the situation becomes marked with malice, hatred, vengeance, lies, hypocrisy, and other deceits – not to mention violence and allegations of violence. Most especially it rents the fabric of small, fragile and vulnerable communities, pitting family against family.

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About the Author

Pat O'Shane is a NSW magistrate and an activist for the rights of women and Aboriginal people.

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