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Australian Indigenous TV host quits program over racist backlash

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Prominent Australian Indigenous journalist Stan Grant quit television hosting duties on Monday in response to online racist abuse over his comments during King Charles III's coronation about historic Aboriginal dispossession.

Grant, a member of the Wiradjuri tribe of Indigenous Australians and former international correspondent for U.S.-based CNN, said at the end of Australian Broadcasting Corp.'s weekly national panel discussion program “Q+A," that he was “stepping away for a little while" because his soul was hurting.

“To those who have abused me and my family, I would just say: If your aim was to hurt me, well, you’ve succeeded,” Grants said. "I’m sorry that I must have given you so much cause to hate me so much, to target me and my family, to make threats against me."

Grant has been under fire since taking part in a panel discussion on the ABC ahead of the May 6 coronation ceremony in London. Topics included a push to have a president replace the British monarch as Australia’s head of state and Indigenous suffering from colonization.

Critics complained that the ABC had soured the celebratory mood of the coronation.

His supporters say inaccurate and inflammatory reporting of his views in the mainstream media has fueled racially abusive and threatening personal attacks on social media, wearing the news veteran down.

After more than 30 years of news experience in Australian television, Grant wrote Friday in his regular ABC online column that Monday would be the last time in the foreseeable future that he would host “Q+A” because of the news media and social media abuse.

“I take time out because we have shown again that our history — our hard truth — is too big, too fragile, too precious for the media. The media sees only battle lines, not bridges. It sees only politics,” Grant wrote. “The media has turned public discussion into an amusement park. Social media, at its worst, is a sordid spectacle. A grotesque burlesque. Lives are reduced to mockery and ridicule."

“I want no part of it. I want to find a place of grace far from the stench of the media,” Grant said.

Grant was asked to participate on the panel “as a Wiradjuri man to discuss his own family’s experience and the role of the monarchy in Australia in the context of Indigenous history,” said Justin Stevens, ABC news director

“The responsibility for the coverage lies with ABC news management, not with Stan Grant,” Steven said.

Hundreds of ABC colleagues, journalists and supporters carrying signs, including “We stand with Stan” and “We reject racism,” gathered outside the ABC’s Sydney headquarters Monday afternoon in a show of support for Grant.

Grant’s journalist daughter Lowanna Grant told the crowd about the toll racist abuse had taken on their family.

“It’s really hard to see him struggling, and that he’s had to cop (endure) the racism and disgusting filth that’s been online,” she said.

Her mother and Stan Grant’s first wife, Karla Grant — also an Indigenous reporter — told the gathering that racial abuse was an ongoing issue for Indigenous journalists as well as the Grant family.

“It’s an accumulation of years and years of racism our people have had to face,” Karla Grant said.

Indigenous journalist Narelda Jacobs said she also experienced personal attacks for sharing Indigenous perspectives.

"To see him now stepping down indefinitely from one of the most senior positions in Australia, it feels like a grieving. It feels like a sense of loss,” Jacobs said.

“We've all experienced personal attacks. Every time I'm asked to talk about something that I feel passionately about, I have to take a moment and consider whether it's really worth it,” Jacobs said.

Indigenous Australians account for 3.2% of the national population and are Australia’s most disadvantaged ethnic minority.

A political divide emerged over the center-left Labor Party government’s plan to hold a referendum this year that would create an Indigenous representative body that would be known as a Voice to Parliament and would advise lawmakers on issues that affect Indigenous lives.

The main conservative parties oppose such a change to the constitution and argue it would divide the nation along racial lines.

National Indigenous Television, a national broadcaster known as NITV, on Sunday said it was “taking a break” from posting on Twitter because: “We’ve had enough of the racism and hate that we see and experience every day on this platform.”

NITV host John Paul Janke said the racial hate messaging had increased with the public debate on the Voice to Parliament.

“The abuse that we’re seeing now is not new, but it’s been increasing with new intensity,” Janke said.

An increasingly visible neo-Nazi movement has prompted several Australian states to outlaw swastikas, and football competitions have introduced sanctions to try and stamp out racial abuse from spectators directed at Indigenous players.

The Australian Monarchist League lodged a freedom of information request with the ABC about the planning of the broadcast to determine “how this pitiful turn of evets was allowed to eventuate,” said Eric Abetz, the league’s chair and a former senator.

“The commandeering of the broadcast into a monologue of everything that might be wrong with our great country and then depositing it all at the feet of our constitutional monarchy was both blatantly absurd and an abuse of the occasion,” Abetz said. “This freedom of information request will expose the twisted thinking and those responsible for this unprecedented and unprincipled takeover of what should have been a factual commentary on an exceptionally historic occasion.”

Grant said that since the coronation, he had seen “people in the media lie and distort my words.” He said he and his family were “regularly racially mocked or abused," and no one in the ABC had publicly supported him since the coronation.

ABC Managing Director David Anderson apologized to Grant on Sunday in an email to staff, saying Grant’s experiences since the coronation have been “distressing and confronting” for the corporation.

Stevens said the corporation had complained to Twitter this year about racist abuse of Grant published on the social media platform. Any threats against Grant would be referred to police, Stevens said.

Media reporting of Grant’s contribution to the panel discussion had been “unfair, inaccurate and irresponsible," Stevens said.

The ABC Ombudsman was investigating public complaints about the broadcast, which the ABC said exceeded 1,700.

News Corp reported that the ABC broadcast had largely focused on issues relating to the republic movement, and widespread harm perpetrated against Indigenous Australians by the monarchy and its colonial enterprise.

Anderson said “anti-ABC reporting” by some commercial media outlets had been “sustained and vitriolic," and announced a review of how the ABC responds to racism affecting staff.

“Racism must never be tolerated and I am dismayed that Stan has been exposed to such sickening behavior," Anderson said. “This has real-world consequences for ABC presenters and journalists who are personally attacked and vilified."