Viewers have been left outraged after ‘The Project’ ignored calls to acknowledge a resurfaced 2017 segment in which its hosts Peter Helliar and Waleed Aly dismissed Heritier Lumumba’s experiences of racism at the Collingwood Football Club.
This week, as a leaked report found evidence of “systemic racism” within the club, Twitter users demanded that ‘The Project’ and Aly apologise on air for not believing Lumumba when he shared that his teammates had called him “chimp” and “slave”.
Lumumba’s account of a “culture of racist jokes” at the club, where he played 199 games from 2005-14, prompted the recently leaked report.
‘The Project’ and its hosts have been condemned for “discrediting” and “gaslighting” Lumumba in the 2017 segment when he tried to go public about racism at the club. While Helliar has apologised on Twitter, viewers are demanding more action.
Melbourne-based comic Aamer Rahman told HuffPost Australia the program had “an active role in covering for the club” when Lumumba came forward, and its failure to acknowledge that now “is hypocritical and dishonest”.
In a thread of 25 tweets from July last year, Rahman dissected the 2017 segment that he said “undermined” Lumumba’s experiences, left important details out of the final edit and echoed Collingwood’s PR messages that tried to disprove Lumumba’s story.
Rahman pointed out that, at the time, Helliar had questioned Lumumba’s account of being subjected to slurs like “chimp” by saying, “We can’t find anyone who would speak to us who knew of that nickname over a playing career of 10 years.”
“Even if you have to name names, take us into your experience. Paint the picture so we understand it more. Because if you don’t do that, then it just sounds like you’re smearing an entire club.”
Aly then corrected himself and Helliar, admitting on the panel that Andrew Krakouer had confirmed the “chimp” nickname, but then dismissed Krakouer as a “rare person”. Krakouer is a First Nations man.
On Monday, Helliar, who has worked with Collingwood as its ‘Strauchanie’ character, tweeted an apology to Lumumba, saying: “I should have believed you.” But many say it’s not enough.
“I don’t think Helliar’s attempt to apologise is insincere, but it’s still inadequate,” said Rahman.
“Lumumba was discredited on a nationwide, prime-time program with millions of viewers. That broadcast significantly damaged his reputation - a proper and meaningful acknowledgment or apology can only happen on the same platform.”
“This takes more than just promising to ‘do better’ in a tweet.”
Many other Twitter users agreed with Rahman, asking why the segment wasn’t addressed again on Wednesday’s episode.
An independent review this week found “systemic” racism within the Magpies and called for the problem to be addressed.
Collingwood’s president Eddie McGuire on Tuesday was forced to backtrack on his disastrous comments describing the report’s release as “an historic and proud day” for the Magpies. The review found that racism had resulted in “profound and enduring harm to First Nations and African players.”
“This is the first time anything like this has happened in the history of the AFL, and it’s happened because of Lumumba’s unwillingness to back down from his claims,” Rahman added.
“The 2017 Project interview had a devastating effect on the momentum and public support he was starting to build since leaving football. It took him another three years before he could publicly pursue his claims again.”
Rahman is calling for Aly to acknowledge the 2017 coverage.
“I do think there may be a certain calculation on the part of the Project and other presenters where they think that allowing Helliar to apologise might contain the criticism on Twitter. If anything, it’s just made it worse,” he said.
Network 10 declined to comment.
You can watch the controversial 2017 segment of ‘The Project’ in full below.