Inciting controversy or fair play? ABC refers to Australia Day as ‘Invasion Day’

Jan 25, 2021
The Australia Day debate has flared once again. Source: WikiCommons

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has come under fire for its decision to call Australia Day “Invasion Day” in an online news article, forcing it to retract the contentious language and clarify its intentions.

The original article, headlined “Australia Day/Invasion Day 2021 events guide for Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin”, was published on the ABC website on Sunday and garnered plenty of attention on social media.

The public holiday is a topic of regular debate, with some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people referring to the day as Invasion Day, marking the invasion by British settlers of lands already owned by them.

After receiving harsh criticism from both politicians and everyday Aussies, the broadcaster changed the headline to ‘Australia Day is a contentious day for many. Here are the events being held on January 26’ and released a statement saying its policy is “to use the term Australia Day, as it always has”.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher was one of the first politicians to criticise the ABC over its original headline, saying: “The ABC has clearly got this one wrong. 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.”

Liberal Senator James McGrath has also taken aim at the ABC saying its decision to refer to Australia Day as ‘Invasion Day’ is very “unAustralian”.

“It’s a disgraceful act aimed to create division on our National Day,” he tweeted on Sunday. “If the ABC don’t want to celebrate our National Day, then why are we giving them a billion dollars a year?”

Fellow Aussies have also weighed in on the topic, with one Facebook user writing, “SHAME on the ABC!! Very unAustralian particularly when they receive Government funding!”

Another added, “The ABC is supposed to be impartial and not be meddling in political issues (apolitical) or to be creating division. Such a partisan approach is wrong and not one the ABC should be taking.”

However, others have backed the ABC’s decision to recognise Australia’s Indigenous people, with one commenting: “I don’t want to sound too controversial as I’m actually quite conservative AND my ancestors were on the 3rd fleet. I’m Australian & I LOVE celebrating Australia in all it’s glory & wonder, BUT January 26th actually IS invasion day. How about we ditch the actual date & make the last Monday in January Australia Day, no one gets offended & we get a holiday EVERY YEAR. ”

News Breakfast anchor Michael Rowland has also come to the national broadcaster’s defence, writing on Twitter: “The default terminology for the ABC remains ‘Australia Day’. 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 ABC has since released a statement defending its decision, saying it’s important for staff to recognise both sides of the story when reporting on the much-debated holiday.

“It is important to note, though, that both the Macquarie and the Australian Concise Oxford dictionaries list ‘Survival Day’ and ‘Invasion Day’ as roughly synonymous with ‘Australia Day’, either as ‘viewed by Indigenous people and their supporters’ (Macquarie), or ‘especially in Aboriginal Australian contexts’ (ACOD),” the national broadcaster said in a statement.

“Both terms have a long history of use in this country: the Australian National Dictionary dates both to the 1980s. A precursor for both terms would be the 1938 announcement by Indigenous groups that January 26 – not then a national public holiday – be known as a Day of Mourning and Protest.

“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.

It comes as a new Ipsos poll for Nine News and The Age/The Sydney Morning Herald found that 50 per cent of Australians are not in favour of changing the date of Australia Day from January 26. The poll results showed that of the 1,222 people surveyed, 48 per cent were against changing the date and a further quarter neither agreed or disagreed.

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What are your thoughts on this? Do you think it's okay to use both terms?

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