Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.

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Issue #1538      7 March 2012

Indigenous TV hopes dwindle

The prospect of an Indigenous-controlled free-to-air television channel is dwindling, with talks between National Indigenous Television (NITV) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) grindingly slow.

NITV’s federal funding runs out on June 30 and, although its Indigenous board is still hopeful of a positive outcome, its chairperson Ken Reys has admitted the negotiation process has been slow and frustrating and little has been tied down.

Mr Reys told the Koori Mail newspaper that NITV had sought a meeting with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy three weeks ago, but was still waiting.

Similarly, it had been unable to secure a meeting between its board and that of the ethnic broadcaster, with negotiations to date having been conducted only at an executive management level. At present, the NITV board comprises Mr Reys, Grant Hanson as deputy chairperson, barrister Nathan Jarro and businesswoman Lani Blanco.

Launched in 2007, NITV currently screens Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs on Foxtel, Austar and other subscription TV networks, with free-to-air coverage in some remote regions.

But following a review of the Indigenous broadcasting sector last year, the federal government backed NITV moving to an SBS-hosted free-to-air channel and Senator Conroy ‘invited’ the two entities to start talks.

Since then, NITV’s board has sought assurances that any such arrangement would include secure funding for Indigenous programming quarantined from SBS’s overall cash-strapped budget, Indigenous editorial control, and ongoing employment for as many as possible of its 45 staff.

Mr Reys said one of the first messages NITV received from SBS was that it was “happy to talk” about NITV’s editorial policies and how they might be “augmented into the broader SBS framework”.

“That’s positive; at least they haven’t kicked that notion out the door,” he said, but conceded this fell short of Indigenous editorial control.

He said SBS had indicated that it would prefer – but had not guaranteed – that any new Indigenous channel was managed by an Indigenous person, and was open to the appointment of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person to its board.

“But, beyond that, ‘they haven’t guaranteed too much.

“They’re guarded. They’ve been told by the government to talk to us and we know they’re in a quandary themselves. SBS has a $4 million deficit load but that’s not our problem and that’s one of the reasons why we want our money ring-fenced,” Mr Reys said.

“Not happy”

“SBS are certainly not happy with that and the government is virtually saying they can’t tell the SBS how to spend their money. But, come July 1, the funding from government will be directed to the SBS and we believe it is right and proper to ensure the proper benefit of this overall government directive for a dedicated Indigenous channel.”

Mr Reys said the NITV Board was yet to make any formal decision about a transfer to SBS, per se.

“But, of course, we’ve got to be mindful as a board that we don’t cut the nose off to spite the face; that we don’t lose the opportunity to at least structure up this new channel appropriately and sensitively from an Indigenous perspective,” he said.

NITV has only ever had 12-month funding at a time – currently at $15.2 million per year – frustrating programming and the retention of experienced and highly qualified staff.

Mr Reys said the board was keen to give staff some certainty and to clarify for the Indigenous community generally what lay ahead, but was not in a position to give too many assurances.

“We’re still negotiating and we’re still wanting to take up some of those important issues. We’d say they’re imperative, but SBS mightn’t agree, and we’re trying to get the best we can.

“It’s very tough and it’s frustrating but, as we say, there’s still a bit of fight left in the old dog,” he said.

A response was sought from Senator Conroy’s office but had not been received when the Koori Mail went to print.

Koori Mail  

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