Public Broadcaster’s Legal Maneuver Delays Lawsuit Involving Inaccurate Reporting

A recent attempt to delay a lawsuit against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for inaccurate reporting and inciting hatred against a group of dissidents was successful this week. ABC, Australia’s taxpayer-funded national broadcaster, faced complaints from supporters of Falun Gong, a persecuted spiritual practice whose followers continue to suffer human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party.

Adherents accused the ABC of biased reporting on Falun Gong, leading to “undeserved hatred and hostility” in the Australian public. They argue that this violated Section 8 of Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001, which prohibits conduct that incites hatred, contempt, or revulsion of a class of persons. The contentious programs are episodes of the podcast series Background Briefing and an episode of the television series Foreign Correspondent.

The ABC claims that its programs were produced in the public interest, an exception under Section 11, but does not argue that the programs were a “fair and accurate report of any event.” The legal battle began in late 2021 in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) and moved to physical hearings in August 2023.

During closing statements on Nov. 14, ABC’s legal representative, Haroon Hassan, raised the issue of jurisdiction, arguing that VCAT did not have the authority to hear matters “related to” the Commonwealth of Australia, essentially claiming that the ABC is a part of the federal government. After a one-month recess for both parties to submit arguments on the matter, Senior Member Charles Powles referred the issue to a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria to determine if VCAT has jurisdiction.

Powles highlighted the stress and anxiety the jurisdictional issue would cause Falun Gong practitioners, many of whom are refugees in Australia. He also considered the potential disadvantage to the applicants under Section 78 of the VCAT Act. Despite these considerations, he stated that a referral under Section 77, which allows a matter to be shifted to another court if more appropriate, outweighed everything else.

Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that teaches truth, compassion, and forbearance and was introduced to the public in China in 1992 by Mr. Li Hongzhi. The practice spread rapidly, but in 1999, the Chinese government ordered its eradication, leading to millions of practitioners being targeted for their faith.

The trial continues to unfold, with the Supreme Court of Victoria yet to make a ruling on whether VCAT has jurisdiction in the lawsuit against the ABC. The case is a focal point for critics of the CCP’s human rights abuses and its influence over foreign media entities. Stay tuned for more updates as the legal battle progresses.


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