A Melbourne radio presenter has apologised for broadcasting an interview in which “African guys” were incorrectly blamed for a group assault in Melbourne’s east that left a 50-year-old man in a critical condition.
Police said the man was bashed outside his Esther Crescent home in Mooroolbark just before 11pm on Christmas Day, and family members said he was attacked by a group of young people armed with baseball bats.
The man’s family have since said that his life support would be switched off.
On Friday, radio station 3AW ran an interview with the man’s brother-in-law, in which he described the attackers as “African guys”.
But on Saturday night, 7News journalist and 3AW broadcaster Nick McCallum said that report was incorrect.
“From later reporting it is clear that was wrong,” McCallum wrote on Twitter. “We apologise to the African community.”
Melbourne lawyer Nyadol Nyuon said the correction came too late for African communities in Melbourne, and that the media’s emphasis on race in crime statistics was in part responsible for this type of misidentification. She drew attention to numerous racist comments on social media in response to the original story, including one that called for “lynch mobs”.
Lawyer Maker Mayek, who, like Nyuon, has been pulled into the role of a de facto spokesperson for the African community since an escalated media and political campaign against a so-called “African gang crisis” in Melbourne began two years ago, said 3AW’s reporting was “completely irresponsible”.
Crime statistics have consistently shown that claims about “African” perpetrators are inflated.
“I’ve been basically sitting here making calls to community leaders how to react to a fallout,” Mayek said on Twitter. “My heart racing pondering the consequences.”
McCallum said he was “mortified” by the mistake.
The man told 3AW the alleged assailants “knocked my sister out, and had my niece, from what I understand, by the hair”.
He said his brother-in-law was “brain dead” and the situation was “heartbreaking”.
The false description of the attack stated that “a whole gang of African guys, ranging from teenage to mid-20s, approximately 10-15 of them with weapons – iron bars and baseball bats – attacked him, knocked my sister out”.
Those comments have since been edited out of 3AW’s online news story, but are still being shared on social media. The online copy does not state that earlier reports were inaccurate, and a correction was not issued from 3AW’s official Twitter account. On Sunday the unedited audio from 3AW was still embedded in a story about the alleged assault on The Age’s website.
Nyuon questioned why the race of the attackers was no longer being stated in the story, now it had been determined that they were not African.
It’s not the first time media have been accused of whipping up racial tensions in Melbourne. In January, Channel Nine’s A Current Affair was criticised for a segment headlined “The ‘race war’ brewing on Melbourne’s streets”.
That segment featured a masked, anonymous man described as a “Vietnamese teenager” calling on people to “hurt any African youths”, but did not name any Vietnamese Australians or Sudanese Australians who were willing to be identified.
After the alleged attack in Mooroolbark, a 50-year-old woman was also taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
Up to eight people may have been involved in the fight, AAP reported. An 18-year-old man from Mooroolbark was arrested at the scene but released. Police are continuing to investigate the attack.