AUDIO: Morrow joke ‘misinterpreted as racist’

David Morrow said he was referencing a 17-year-old conversation he had with an Atlanta police officer when he made the remarks which led to claims of racism and resulted in the veteran ABC caller being stood down by the broadcaster.

Morrow, who has been suspended pending a full investigation into the comments he made before Monday night’s match between St George Illawarra and Manly, said he was ”embarrassed and ashamed” over the remarks, which went to air in the Wollongong area by mistake.

Morrow apologised and said he was distressed his remarks had been ”misinterpreted as racist against indigenous Australians”.

READ: David Morrow’s statement

”It’s with a great deal of remorse and contrition that I am writing this apology,” Morrow said. ”I am very embarrassed and ashamed I have offended some people with my words on Monday night. I am extremely distressed that my remarks, which were accidentally heard on air, have been reported and misinterpreted as racist against indigenous Australians, and possibly offensive to Darwin citizens. I know it is no excuse but I clearly didn’t know we were on air.

“I know it is no excuse but I clearly didn’t know we were on air. We were miked up in the broadcasting booth at Kogarah Oval and were not due to go on air until 7pm.

“Unfortunately at 6.59pm the ABC station based in Wollongong crossed to the ground and without our knowledge started broadcasting what we were saying. We weren’t told the broadcast would start at 1 minute to 7 instead of the normal 7 o’clock sharp.”

Morrow said his comments were made in reference to a conversation he had in Atlanta, Georgia, with a police officer who was part of his security escort during the 1996 Olympics. The officer warned Morrow and his colleagues about the risk of walking through a dark area with few working street lights, according to the commentator.

”He had a deep southern accent and what he said was ‘Dats da only way you can tell when there’s anyone there, it’s when dey smile,’ ” Morrow said. ”The Atlanta policeman was obviously saying this because of his concerns for our safety if we ventured south of a certain street due to the bad lighting and high crime rate. His message was if you went there, you wouldn’t know you’ve got company until you see the smile, and by then it’ll be too late.

”So when Shannon [Byrne, the sideline eye, from Darwin] joked that sometimes the street lights don’t go on in Darwin, it quickly brought to mind what the Atlanta police officer had said. At no time did I set out to offend anyone. I have worked with, and among, a variety of people from many races and cultures and I have never been accused of offensive behaviour. I have been broadcasting for almost 42 years without a blemish.”

NSW Deputy Opposition Leader and acting chairwoman of the Rugby League Indigenous Council Linda Burney said: ”Whether he was on air or off air, whether it was a joke or not, the comments are totally unacceptable.”

Suspended … David Morrow.

Burney said Morrow’s words had ”the potential to undermine the really significant work that’s been done throughout the game in terms of the involvement and recognition of Aboriginal community, culture, history and participation.”

After Morrow’s apology, an ABC spokeswoman said: ”The statement released by David Morrow today regarding recent on-air comments was not seen by the ABC before its release and was made in a personal capacity. The matter is under investigation.”


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