Alternative Law Journal
After three years of litigation and negotiation, a successful mediated outcome has been secured by 28 former Year 12 students from Mt Druitt High School in defamation proceedings against News Limited. The proceedings related to the publishing of a front page article in the Daily Telegraph in January 1997, describing Year 12 students at Mt Druitt High School as 'the Class we failed'.
The terms of the settlement reached are confidential, but included the publishing of a formal apology to the students, which appeared on page 3 of the Daily Telegraph on Monday, 13 November 2000. In addition, each of the students received financial settlements ranging from $20,000 to $100,000. In the published apology, the Daily Tele graph admitted they were wrong in stating that the students had failed their HSC, and withdrew any suggestion that the students acted without discipline or commitment in their HSC studies. It further stated:
The students in the HSC class of 1996 successfully completed their HSC and contrary to the suggestions in the original article many of those students per formed very well scoring marks in the HSC.
The Daily Telegraph apologises to each student in the class of 1996 at Mt Druitt. It also apologises to their parents and friends for all the hurt, harm and suffering it has caused them.
The settlement followed a decision by a Supreme Court jury in May last year, that that the imputations alleged from the Daily Telegraph article 'The Class we Failed', back in January 1997, could be drawn and that these imputations were defamatory.
The result represents a landmark for children's and youth rights, and a victory for the role of community legal centres in undertaking public interest litigation. The negative stereotyping and portrayal of young people in the media often has an enormous impact on the individuals concerned, in terms of damage to their reputations and aspersions to their characters. The result re minds all media proprietors and editors that young people have the same rights to protect their reputation and character as anyone else in the community - politicians, business people, performers, etc.
In particular, the result is a testament to the determined and courageous stand taken by the students to defend their reputations, in the face of both the media inferences that they were failures and uncommitted to their studies and the blue ribbon legal representation typical of the Murdoch media empire.
Youth radio, youth councils and ser vices for young people in trouble are among seven projects that have been re cognised as part of a competition showcasing youth participation in Australia, as part of the l0th anniversary of Australia's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Action Exchange competition, organised by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the National Children's and Youth Law Centre, celebrates the enthusiasm and initiative of young people in speaking up for themselves and participating actively in Australian society for the benefit of other children and young people.
Each winner received a small contribution towards their project and the opportunity to have their project details showcased on the Lawstuff website <www.lawstuff.org.au> run by the National Children's and Youth Law Centre. The contribution of young people in shaping their own lives is evident in all of the projects:
• The Port Augusta Anti-Bullying Council (ABC) in South Australia, is driven by primary school students aged between 5 and 12 who advise on ways to stamp out school and workplace bullying. The ABC is made up of students from all the schools in Port Augusta, who have teamed together to combat bullying in primary, high schools and workplaces.
• At Brisbane's community radio station 4ZZZ Youth Radio Show all of the program's DJs are under 20 years old. Included among the pro gram's many achievements is the production of '13/23', a national youth current affairs program. The weekly, 15-minute program gives a brief wrap-up of news around the nation affecting young people fol lowed by a short feature focusing on an issue concerning young people that week.
• The South Sydney Youth Radio Ser vice, 'Turn it Up', puts out issue based CDs and radio shows and has a spot on Radio Skid Row 88.9 fm each Tuesday through Thursday between 4 pm and 6 pm. The 'Turn it Up' project has been involved in a number of large anti-discrimination awareness projects, including production of programs promoting anti-violence, anti-racism and anti homophobia.
• VicSTARS, or Victorian Students That Take Reconciliation Seriously, is a group of30 young people, all un der 17 years old, who meet regularly to discuss political, social and cultural issues of reconciliation. VicSTARS put together the first Victorian Youth Reconciliation Forum in August 1998, opened by former ATSIC Chairman, Gatjil Djerrkura. That conference brought together 350 students from 210 schools to develop strategies to involve young people in discussions about Aborigi nal affairs, and reconciliation.
• In Western Australia, the City of Swan Youth Council-a group of nine 15 to 20 year olds -give their local council advice on how to deal with youth issues, the need for youth facilities, entertainment and ser vices, and address youth issues. The Youth Council endeavours to speak the views of young people and ad dress issues that are related to them, whether it's something as serious as youth suicide,or wanting somewhere to spend time on the weekend.
• Reach Out! is a national service that uses the Internet to help young people get through tough times. Developed by the Inspire Foundation, Reach Out! provides much-needed information, assistance and referrals in a format that appeals to young people. It is organised by a crosssection of young people from around Australia who advise Reach Out! And assist in the development of content for the website. The website allows young people to help and advise their age group through difficult times.
• Princes Hill Secondary College in North Carlton Victoria set up Student Action Teams (SATs) to build links with community groups and give them a voice on youth issues. SATs have focused on developing a community relationship with a local elderly residential home, and have organised forums with police looking at issues about young people and the law.
Newly appointed Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Sev Ozdowski, described the initiatives as 'inspiring', stating: 'the right to express views and have those views taken into account is one of the most fundamental rights specified in the international Convention on the Rights of the Child'.
To see the web pages go to <www.lawstuff.org.au> and follow the instructions to reach Action Exchange.
Louis Scheher is Director & Principal Solicitor; National Children's & Youth Law Centre, Sydney