ABC’s major Australia Day backflip
The ABC has quietly removed the words "Invasion Day" from a headline on an article about Australia Day events after senior government figures attacked the national broadcaster.
Up until late this morning, a piece on celebrations and protests on January 26 was headlined "Australia Day/Invasion Day 2021 events", sparking upset among some Coalition MPs and conservative commentators.
However, at lunchtime, the article became "Australia Day is a contentious day for many. Here are the events being held on January 26".
The ABC said Australia Day was its "default terminology" and it had "changed a headline to avoid any reader confusion about this".
The broadcaster denied it had ever used the terms Australia Day and Invasion Day interchangeably. The article continues to refer to Invasion Day events with the ABC stating "it would be inappropriate to mandate staff use any one term over others in all contexts".
Earlier, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said "the ABC has clearly got this wrong", referencing the article published yesterday.
The ABC had initially stuck to its guns saying a "variety of terms" described January 26 and "it would be inappropriate to mandate staff use any one term over others in all contexts".
Many Indigenous Australians bristle at the date as it marks the arrival of the First Fleet from Britain, an event which led to many Aboriginal people being killed in massacres and suffering other ill treatment at the hands of colonisers.
Others argue the day marks the foundation of modern Australia and the freedoms enjoyed by all.
A new poll published today found fewer than one-third of Australians support shifting the day from January 26.
The ABC article listed, and continues to list, celebrations held under the Australia Day banner as well as demonstrations billed as Invasion Day which it used the justify referring to both terms in the headline.
This morning, the Communications Minister slammed the ABC and said the article was "incorrect about Australia Day".
"The name of our national day is well understood and supported, and for the ABC to suggest otherwise - that in some way Invasion Day is interchangeable with Australia Day - is clearly wrong," Mr Fletcher said.
He added that the name Australia Day was used in legislation and was "reflected in the usage of the overwhelming majority of Australians".
He conceded the public broadcaster had editorial independence but he urged it to "correct this inaccurate article" and to "be impartial".
Despite this independence, by Monday lunchtime the article's headline had been shorn of any mention of Invasion Day.
"The ABC's policy is to use the term Australia Day, as it always has," an ABC spokeswoman told news.com.au.
"As the editorial advice states, other terms can be used when they are appropriate in certain contexts. This does not mean they are used interchangeably. We have changed a headline to avoid any reader confusion about this."
Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt had said January 26 should be referred to as Australia Day.
"This Australia Day we should walk together, side-by-side, as one to reflect, respect and celebrate all that makes us Australian - Indigenous and non-Indigenous," he said.
Indigenous leader and one-time Liberal Party candidate Warren Mundine said the history of January 26 wasn't in dispute, but Australia should "stop focusing on things that divide us (and) focus on the real issues and making them better".
The ABC article was about the various events around the country on Jan 26. To have referred to the protests as Australia Day events would have been inaccurate reporting. https://t.co/iapEHfN3YP— Shaun Micallef (@shaunmicallef) January 24, 2021
26 Jan marks the start of invasion, dispossession & ongoing inequality. Being patriotic is about being honest. I will use the day to reflect on the injustices faced by Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people and urge new citizens to work with me towards reconciliation & treaty— Alex Greenwich MP (@AlexGreenwich) January 24, 2021
I’m tired from Invasion day already, Invasion day is everyday!— Lidia Thorpe (@lidia__thorpe) January 22, 2021
That wasn't a view shared by prominent Indigenous activist Dr Stephen Hagan, who was behind the long-running and ultimately successful campaign to have Coon cheese renamed.
He told news.com.au he was "100 per cent" in favour of the ABC's initial decision to use both Australia Day and Invasion Day.
"I support using both terms if for no other reason that it keeps up the conversation which leads to truth telling," Dr Hagan said.
"When people say the ABC shouldn't use the term Invasion Day, what they are saying is they do not support Aboriginal people".
Dr Hagan noted that New Zealand's national day, Waitangi Day, marked the signing of a treaty between Britain and the local Maori population which established the modern nation, rather than the day UK forces arrived in Kiwi shores.
He accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack for using the "race card" with their comments leading up to Australia Day.
"From the PM's stupid and pathetic comments about the condition of (those in the First Fleet) to McCormack making a reference to all lives matter, they always use the race card - they never miss a beat," Dr Hagan said.
Labor's Indigenous Australians spokeswoman Linda Burney also supported the ABC's use of different terms for the day depending on what was being referred too.
"The article reflects the growing awareness of the complexities around January 26 in our community".
In a statement on its website, ABC had defended its use of several names for January 26 but has said "Australia Day" was the default term.
"The ABC's policy is to use the term Australia Day, as it always has. As the editorial advice states, other terms can be used when they are appropriate in certain contexts. This does not mean they are used interchangeably," it said.
"We also recognise and respect that community members use other terms for the event, including '26 January', 'Invasion Day' and 'Survival Day, so our reporting and coverage reflect that."
The broadcaster said that the term "Invasion Day" was not interchangeable with "Australia Day," but rather was used in the context of events that are billed as such.
It added that both the Macquarie and Australian Oxford dictionaries listed "Invasion Day" and "Survival Day" as "roughly synonymous" with "Australia Day" particularly for Indigenous Australians.
"Given the variety of terms in use, and the different perspectives on the day that the ABC is going to cover over the course of the long weekend, it would be inappropriate to mandate staff use any one term over others in all contexts," the ABC said.
Originally published as ABC's major Australia Day backflip