On July 13, with the launch of the new National Indigenous Television (NITV), Indigenous Community Television (ICTV) was switched off so that NITV could be given sole access to Imparja’s Channel 31 carrier. For the last six years Channel 31 delivered ICTV free-to-air in more than 150 remote Aboriginal communities and uncounted homes with satellite receivers. Denial of access to the carrier will effectively scrap the much loved and irreplaceable ICTV - a proven remote community television network that is already working.
Dr Michael Meadows et al have noted the special significance of ICTV in a groundbreaking Griffith University study of the Australian community broadcasting sector:
ICTV represents the most significant advance for remote Indigenous communities in the past 20 years in terms of its potential to contribute to the maintenance of languages and cultures, boosting self-esteem and making a significant contribution to reinforcing a sense of identity amongst its diverse audiences. It has already begun to achieve this, according to the audience feedback we have included in our study.
The proposal to install a one-size-fits-all Indigenous Television service at the expense of ICTV, is looming as the biggest policy failure in Indigenous media since the invention of Aboriginal television in the Pitjantjatjara and Warlpiri lands over 20 years ago. It is a clumsy shotgun wedding between disparate Indigenous media interests that will set remote community media back a decade.
People in remote communities speak “with passion and pride about the importance of seeing images of local, identifiable Indigenous people on TV… ‘Our voices’; ‘our images’; ‘the Anangu way’; ‘black voices, black issues’”(Meadows, et al. 2007).
As a co-worker, I have heard Indigenous media workers speak about their remote community media as “a survival mechanism that can literally save lives”, as an “essential service that helps to address life and death issues”, including suicide, child abuse and domestic violence.
They are adamant that ICTV should stay and have said this time and again in various forums and submissions during the development of NITV. This advice has been determinedly ignored.
I do not argue here that NITV does not have a place (it does!), but rather, that its implementation is imprudent and destructive. NITV will not, cannot, replace the crucial function of ICTV because it is designed to serve different ends, it will usurp ICTV without discharging ICTV’s most important functions.
In the current context
The magnitude of this policy error is underscored by lessons highlighted in the Little Children Are Sacred report (PDF 6.35MB) which stresses that: locally based action and control are needed to really make changes; the most successful programs are community-owned, adapted to the specific needs and cultural dynamics of individual Aboriginal communities, and cannot be imposed from without. The report says that there cannot be a “shrink to fit” approach to reform in Aboriginal communities.
Further, this report declares that an improvement in outcomes will only be achieved by addressing chronic communication failures between government and Indigenous communities and by bolstering communication strategies and capabilities in remote communities.
By eliminating “the most significant advance for remote Indigenous communities in the past 20 years”, current policy impacting on ICTV flies in the face of common sense. Now as much as ever, it is vital to maintain the functionality of communication systems in remote communities and to reward their successes. It is not a time to be dismantling such an essential service as ICTV.
Lest history be re-written
Minister Coonan’s statement, in the Second Reading of the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2007, that the government provision of $48.5 million over four years for NITV would “for the first time” give Indigenous communities a dedicated Indigenous television service, was mistaken.
This is an abridgement of an open letter to Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. The full version is downloadable here.
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