‘Was that racist?’: Erin Molan’s battle

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Erin Molan tearfully told her defamation trial of the moment her life changed when an article was published she says painted her as racist.

Back in March 2018, Ray Hadley, Darryl “The Big Marn” Brohman, the late Bob Fulton and Nine sports broadcaster Erin Molan were, for some reason, discussing Japanese women giving birth on the 2GB rugby league program Continuous Call Team.

As happened frequently on the show, Hadley’s story was interrupted by heckles, laughter, and questionable attempts at foreign accents.

“You like raw fish?” Ms Molan can be heard saying in a Japanese accent, before asking: “Sorry, was that racist?” It’s a question Justice Robert Bromwich will have to answer when he picks the winner in the ugly defamation case between Ms Molan and the Daily Mail, which began in the Federal Court this week.

Ms Molan appeared at times defiant and others teary as she testified for hours in her lawsuit against the media outlet, which she says falsely painted her as a racist in a June 2020 story about her saying “hooka looka mooka hooka fooka” on radio.

The 39-year-old journalist and mother insisted she was referencing a story about father-son commentator duo Ray and Chris Warren practicing how to pronounce player names before a game.

The story, originally about the debut of Manly forward Haumole Olakau’atu, who is of Tongan descent, had been told numerous times on Continuous Call Team and morphed into a silly tale involving a “made up name”, Ms Molan said.

The Warrens were the butt of the joke, she said, not Mr Olakau’atu or Polynesian names in general.

This was in stark contrast to the Daily Mail’s take, which ran on June 5, 2020 with this headline: “Erin Molan refuses to apologise for her ‘hooka looka mooka’ gibe on live radio as Pacific Islander women slam her for being ’complicit in racism’ by mocking their names”.

The story set off a social media firestorm, which Ms Molan alleges triggered a deluge of threats that left her “inconsolable”, fearful to leave the house, and so unable to cope that she “wasn’t the kind of mother to my daughter that I should have been”.

It’s hard to imagine a more incongruous setting for blasting out audio of the raucous 2GB program than a courtroom, but the judge, lawyers and Ms Molan listened to the show this week with sombre expressions on their faces.

The Daily Mail say the excerpts prove Ms Molan is racist, either based on comments she made herself or those she egged on.

Among the remarks they point to are Ms Molan saying “I love you very long time” in a Chinese accent and Mr Brohman saying of his local service station employee “He’s Indian, but he’s a good bloke”.

Ms Molan described the show as largely “just humorous banter, and a lot of that was us taking the mickey out of each other and out of ourselves”.

Doing accents had been part of the show’s humour for “30 years” she said, and there was a running joke about Mr Brohman being hopeless at them.

“American, a lot of American. French, Chinese. Indian. Spanish. Scottish, Irish, Welsh,” Ms Molan said, asked to list the ones she had done.

“They were all very poor attempts obviously, but every accent you could think of, I’m sure we all would have done.”

She rejected the accents were “peddling ugly racial stereotypes” or engaging in a “classic example of casual racism”.

No one ever complained, and in fact sometimes people from various backgrounds would ring up and offer help, Ms Molan said.

In response to the audio onslaught, Ms Molan’s barrister Kieran Smark played recordings he said added necessary context, including one where she says “Yeehaw!” in a southern American accent.

Mr Smark said the Daily Mail had “distorted” Ms Molan’s original comment and “generated the story themselves”.

“They confected the outrage that came to fill social media,” he said.

The morning before the article was published, Mr Smark said, Daily Mail news editor Barclay Crawford emailed a journalist to say: “Let’s rip into this sheila”.

Ms Molan alleges the media outlet falsely reported she refused to apologise and she labelled the comment an “inside joke”, which she denies ever saying.

These two falsehoods were common themes in the barrage of abusive messages that flowed into her inbox after the story was published, Ms Molan said.

She told the court she recorded an apology that was broadcast on 2GB the same afternoon the story was published.

The Daily Mail contends the apology was not genuine.

League legend and Canterbury Bulldogs general manager Phil “Gus” Gould told the court it was “farcical” to describe Ms Molan as racist and she had been a “pioneer” for women in the male-dominated sport.

Ms Molan firmly denied there was a “racial element” to the ongoing joke about the Warrens trying to say Mr Olakau’atu’s name, insisting the story had evolved to be about a “gibberish” name.

Plenty of NRL players were listeners and the show was broadcast into the Pacific Islands, she said, and no one had ever complained.

“The fact no one complained doesn’t make any moral difference whatsoever,” Mr McClintock said.

“It’s still just as bad and just as racist even if no one had the guts to stand up and say it.”

“We never brought race into it,” Ms Molan said. “The Daily Mail brought race and Polynesian into it. We never mentioned where he was from.”

“You really have no insight, do you, into why what you did was wrong,” Mr McClintock said.

“The way the Daily Mail reported what I did was wrong,” Ms Molan said. “What I did, no, I do not believe was wrong.”

The matter will return to court for closing submissions on September 30.

Originally published as 2GB’s ‘casual racism’ on trial in Erin Molan defamation case