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More respectful Invasion Day coverage, but much work still to be done

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It’s a tradition of mine to undertake my own “media watch” experiment following the annual Invasion Day rallies. For absolute decades it has been noted that the continual negative reporting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, our fights and our political movements, fuel negative public perceptions of us leading to racism and bullying, as well as lower self-esteem and mental health outcomes in our own communities.

Main image: Invasion Day protestors Melbourne (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Certainly, Invasion Day reporting has followed this trend. As noted in some of my previous work, media have not only consistently underreported the numbers attending the Invasion Day rally therefore diminishing what is a large and growing movement, they have also repeatedly highlighted the apparent threat of violence while noting the large police presence at the rallies, allegedly to “control” these threats.

One year a media outlet stated that there were 150 participants at the rally when the numbers were closer to five thousand. Not a single rally I have been to has been anything but peaceful and the only exception to this has been incidents where police have failed to intercept extreme right actors (now noted to be taking up 40 per cent ASIO’s anti-terrorism resources) who’ve entered rallies to cause havoc. Each time this has happened, marshals and/or participants have moved swiftly to contain these aggressors.

Then there are the truly ridiculous and racist extremes — talking heads who continuously state rally participants don’t care about the “real issues” in Aboriginal communities such as violence, alcohol and drug dependency and unemployment. They proceed to talk with unearned authority about “remote areas”, which despite them claiming participants don’t care, they themselves only ever talk about people who live in these areas in theoretical and ethereal ways. It’s been of constant amusement (in that gallows humour sense) that they additionally appear to know nothing of the rally organisers across the country and the fact that these staunch people also tend to work in the very areas these media “pundits” claim rally participants are not interested in.

Anyway, the point is that I have seen it all and when I looked at this year’s reporting, I was expecting more of the same. I ended up being pleasantly surprised. Taking Melbourne’s reporting as a starting point, most reports featured details of the lengths the rally went to around COVID restrictions and safety precautions. Many featured interviews with speakers and rally participants talking about why they were there, and most were factual when it came to the purpose of the rally — this was not a rally to “change the date” of Australia Day as organisers have been trying to highlight for years, this was a rally about highlighting the continued impacts of colonisation while calling for change and justice.

Interstate, reports followed similar trends. The Perth rally was reported as being the largest ever, as was the Adelaide rally. The Brisbane rally and subsequent gathering at Musgrave was also covered as such while also stating that masks were being worn by a lot despite the lack of cases in the city. Sydney coverage was a bit different. While it covered arrests at the Domain, it also covered a largely peaceful gathering generally speaking with police praising attendees. ABC News Alice Springs published photos of a gathering of 300 on the courthouse lawns. It was a pleasure to see family members within these pics.

 

'I just hope to see a continued commitment to accurate and respectful reporting when it comes to Indigenous issues.'

 

Perhaps the biggest shock was a Channel 7 report that happened prior to the rally in Melbourne. For the unaware, marshal training happens annually to ensure the crowd moves safely and cohesively through the city. So it was strange that this year, Channel 7 arrived at the marshal training to cover it. Though their report did revert to the wrongful messaging regarding the rally being to change the date, the coverage focussed positively on the commitment to a COVID safe event in Melbourne and juxtaposed the Freedom Day rally organised by anti-maskers and Proud Boys that was also organised for the 26/1. It was a relief to see Invasion Day framed as being an organised and responsible event taking measures to protect the public while right wing protests were, for once, framed (accurately) as violent and irresponsible.

Given all this, do I think we’re finally witnessing a change in attitude by the media when it comes to Invasion Day and the annual marches we hold for our rights? To a degree, yes. That being said, I do wonder if this change in coverage will continue or whether we’ve just had a lucky year. Certainly, the numbers keep growing at Invasion Day rallies and the media pretending that these are small, violent and ignorant gatherings couldn’t continue, particularly given we’re in the midst of a pandemic and still people want to march and do everything they can to ensure the public are kept safe while they do so. Perhaps the complete lack of community transmission of COVID at the earlier Black Lives Matter rally, despite media trying to claim otherwise at the time, pushed media to take a different tact? I just hope to see a continued commitment to accurate and respectful reporting when it comes to Indigenous issues.

What I don’t believe is that this indicates a massive shift in public perceptions when it comes to Indigenous people. There is so much more work to be done. The public needs to question the exorbitant rates of incarceration of Indigenous people. It needs to question why so much of the history we’re taught is whitewashed. It needs to start activating and pushing for a fairer and more inclusive future. It needs to push for treaties, for example, which agree to protect the rights of Indigenous people while carving out ways the country can move forward which aren’t continuously about the erasure and assimilation preferred by successive governments for generations. The calls made at Invasion Day — regarding Indigenous lands, justice, acknowledgement and respect — must be answered. 83 years of Indigenous people having to march on this day indicates the issues remain. It’s time that changed.

 

 

Celeste LiddleCeleste Liddle is a trade unionist, a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

Main image: Main image: Invasion Day protestors Melbourne (Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Celeste Liddle, Invasion Day, media, Indigenous, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, march, protest

 

 

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Existing comments

SBS and NITV did a brilliant job on 26 January this year with SBS's replaying of Warwick Thornton's The Beach the culmination. The low point was the ABC's being rebuked about reference to "Invasion Day". This does mean that much more work needs to be done; nevertheless Aboriginal artists, film-makers and writers will continue to shake things up for the better. Keep that media watch going, Celeste.
Pam | 28 January 2021


Isn't everyday invasion day? Whites dominate. Can't a better title be found?
Angela | 28 January 2021


Interesting observation, Celeste. I live in regional Victoria and was amazed to see an editorial in my local paper suggesting that there were valid reasons to change the date. This would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago. Slowly slowly ...
Catherine Watson | 28 January 2021


Although I am not Aboriginal, I always appreciate Celeste's insightful perspectives. Please continue to publish.
Chris Farnsworth | 28 January 2021


Hmmm... seems like the activists fell for the same old annual ploy: protesting the Australia day date. I suppose its one way to burn off some of those political agitation calories on something predictable if not currently partisan; change victims seizing their right to advocate change on others. Celeste suggests a protest within a protest; I dunno, I didn't watch. Its my favorite day to turn off the TV because I find it frustrating our news services 30 minute news cycle can't/won't find anything more relevant. I can't understand the need of the protesters who have already repeatedly totally disregarded instructions from "the Government" to then seek approval of the same Authority to celebrate/commiserate/alienate themselves on some other "Approved" date. Go right ahead... perhaps protesters can then march in chronological order, supporting their own proposed new date; I might watch that.
ray | 28 January 2021


It felt different this year. Maybe the Australian population has reached a tipping point where the increasing numbers of people who are listening to our First Nations voices were, for the first time, greater than those that still cannot hear. I really hope so.
Beth Wright | 28 January 2021


Coverage by Sydney's channel 7 disappointed me. The Invasion Day segment was separated from other coverage of Australia Day by a story about the hot weather was, then the brief report focused on the arrest of 4 people and featured an Aboriginal woman absolutely screaming into a microphone, which I'm sure was not at all representative of the rally as a whole. Some way to go yet.
Martin | 28 January 2021


One would like just a little balance here. (And the indigenous and part indigenous people are not "nations")
Fr John Bunyan | 29 January 2021


I watched SBS and ABC. SBS was wonderful, including good coverage of the Adelaide march. ABC was abysmal. It didn't come on until 7.15 - more than half-way through the news segment - and showed a couple of seconds of a straggly bit of the march. No shots of the huge crowd in Tarndanyangga, and no mention of the numbers. There was a brief bite from Natasha, the rally organiser, and I felt it was one that been selected to make her look more aggressive. The national coverage was okay, but not great.
Anne McMenamin | 29 January 2021


Insofar as there were images of God present when the British invited themselves to it, ‘New South Wales’, like Canaan, was invaded, just as lower China was already peopled when the ancestors of today’s Han Chinese began their southerly invasions. We don’t today say as a matter of historical reportage that Canaan and lower China were invaded. The invasion claim lives not because the original residents were shunted aside brutally ( as opposed to the more preferable shunting that occurs with elbows and squawks of ultimately short-lived complaint when children squeeze on a couch in front of the TV, or birds make places for themselves on a branch). It derives its life-force from a hypothesis of continuing disadvantage to identifiable individuals caused by epigenetics. Epigenetic effects can be ameliorated by human will in education and economics at the subsidiarity level of the individual. There is no need for superstition that, to become well, we need a semi-religious settlement at the subsidiarity level of the nation between those with aboriginal genetics and those without, any more than, as a health restorative, we need the voodoo of rebaptising Australia as a republic, or reconfiguring African Americans as a moral sub-nation due reparations.
roy chen yee | 29 January 2021


Thanks for this Celeste. I too thought that coverage of the Invasion Day activities received far more favourably this year. i attended a rally in the centre of Adelaide to which several thousand people came. There was a warm spirit of solidarity with Aboriginal people and their demands for an alternative date for Australia's national Day. Scott Morrison's and Paul Fletcher's attack of the ABC describing the day as Invasion Day claiming that it was inappropriate seemed to fall on deaf ears. When one reads the history of the arrival of the British settlers and the way that Aboriginal Australians were treated, one cannot come to any other conclusion. After Invasion Day 2021, I feel positive that some of the key issues that Aboriginal people and their supporters are fighting for may be realised sooner rather than later.
Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 29 January 2021


It is interesting, what occurs when you take what happened on the 26th of January 1788 out of the Australia-centric current political debate and attempt some mental time travel. The members of the First Fleet and and the Aboriginal witnesses had no idea what would happen later. This was the heyday of the expansion of the British Empire. The Slave Trade was rampant as was the East India Company's expansion in India. The concept of racial superiority was developing to psychologically justify this terrible predation. In the Australian colonies there were good governors, such as Gipps and Strickland, who punished the murder of Aboriginal people and bad ones who ignored, even condoned it. Like most countries, we have a mixed history. What I think we really need at this moment are unifying figures, such as Cathy Freeman, who has been an inspiration to young and old of all races in this country. This does not mean we do not need a political solution. We do. I do not think it will be achieved speedily and there needs to be genuine dialogue from both sides. It should not be a shouting match. I found Malarindirri McCarthy's article 'Don't change the date, change the attitude' enlightening here. We are all in this together.
Edward Fido | 29 January 2021


Might the more respectful reporting be related to the markedly more respectful nature of the protesting crowds who clearly acted in the best interests of the whole community. It was uplifting to see the Sydney organisers co-operating with the police commander's requirements for a Covid safe protest and sealing that agreement with a handshake. Bring on the treaty and celebrate that on Australia Day. Blind aggression will achieve nothing - there is need for change in both the non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal communities.
john frawley | 29 January 2021


"Invasion day" really? an army was not sent here to attack. Convicts were bought here to serve out their sentences and eek out a miserable existence under extreme conditions while being watched over by their gaolers. They struggled to grow food. they struggled to survive. it was a living hell. Initially they were told to make peace with the indigenous natives. They tried to do this. things soon began to go horribly wrong. There were massacres. land was taken. children were removed from their families. diseases were introduced. alcohol devastated whole communities. we cannot deny the tragic consequences of colonisation. I get that. but i think its time we built some bridges and stopped labelling whole groups as racist thieves while enjoying the benefits of what these "thieves" built. Lets be honest the aborigines would have done the same thing if they had the guns and we had the spears. Back then it was a dog eat dog world. The white people won. To their credit they built a society that is the envy of the world. a society in which both black and white benefit from and enjoy. Lets celebrate and focus on that.
ron Hassarati | 29 January 2021


The Europeans descend from a people who took land via their greed, pride, arrogance, conquer and kill ethos. Yes, back then it was a dog eat dog world. Though, 'that world' was unknown in this land (Australia) before their arrival. Indeed, back then, the Europeans use of metal weapons, knives, guns, canons are proof of this their, greed, pride and arrogance, towards their fellow man. The indigenous were a people who were One with the land. Surviving 50.000 years in this dry land, equipped them with the understanding of what the true meaning of the word 'peace' stands for: The seeking of Unity of efforts with all in order to survive. Their survival strategies were born of being at peace with their fellow survivor, their fellow man, via individuals, families and communities. Making them a very humble people. If they acted the way they did as you say, ron Hassarati, it was out of despair, a sentiment very, very different to the European's ethos around greed, pride, arrogance, conquer and kill. Moreover, they would not have known how to use European weapons, had they not learnt from the Europeans. When people associate with people of evil intentions, they are easily contaminated and entangled to share the same Spirt of Deceit. Evil was contagious like the smallpox imported to them. As a result, on Invasion Day, their hearts, their land was grievously violated. Through no fault of their own.
AO | 30 January 2021


I was as gloomy as Celeste Liddle contemplating the potential media reportage of 26 January and, with a few notable exceptions, was pleasantly surprised. And heartened. Have a quieter than usual 26 January due to the pandemic, a non-Aboriginal rural Victorian woman observed to her sister that, for the first time in her life she had started understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives win "the date" and what it signifies. Surely a step forward. "The date" represents far more, of course. Lorena Allam's work in The Guardian on massacres, for example, has engendered a much broader understanding of post-colonial history. I'll try to not be so gloomy, Celeste!
Chiara Maqueda | 30 January 2021


The following are extracts taken from a letter I sent to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and to the leader of the opposition Anthony Albanese. I received a reply from the office of the Prime Minister. But not from the office of Anthony Albanese...What is a National Day? It is a day on which celebrations mark the Nationhood of a nation or state. It may be the date of independence, of becoming a republic, or significate date for a patron saint or a ruler (such as a birthday, accession, or removal). The national day is often a holiday. Many countries have more than one national day...The arrival in Australia of our first resident people were Aboriginal people, accepted as 'out of Africa', ending in their arrival in the continent of Australia. This is thought to have happened around 50.000 years ago. They made it their home, and were our first immigrant people... After the British began to settle in Australia in 1788, conflict rose between them and the Indigenous peoples, one of the biggest conflicts being the enormous difference in Aboriginal and European Law. For us today, this conflict is of the past. And that's where it should stay. It's history. Now it is the future, that must be our concern. Like others we could have TWO National Days both to be joint ventures celebrated as the two sides of the same coin: Australia. Keeping the 26th of January, on the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet. And a First Migrants Day to be chosen by their decedents.
Fr Stan Hessey, chaplain 8RAR | 31 January 2021


I think all Australians are in the process of discovering their own individual and collective roots. Hopefully, we will all reach the stage together where we see unity in diversity. It is not something to be rushed, nor do I think any one person or organisation should be allowed to take over and tell the rest of us which way to go. Unlike some other countries, we do not have blood on the streets nor what appears to be a current policy of genocide (Myanmar). This is a very good thing. Long may it continue! Some of us need to grow up and realise 'we' in a narrow collective sense can't have everything and give the other side nothing. We cannot abolish 1788, we need to move on from there.
Edward Fido | 02 February 2021


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