In a year celebrating the world’s Indigenous peoples, the Canadian Government, in its March budget, announced it would move to open Canada’s native reserves to private ownership.

Newspaper reports say legislation is in the pipeline to allow First Nations peoples to adopt voluntarily what for most Canadians is natural right; to own a house property.

In Australia, the Human Rights Commission’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, marking International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and the 2012 theme of Indigenous Media, Empowering Voices, played lip service to that aim when he said Australia’s Indigenous media outlets played a valuable role in challenging stereotypes.  Read the release here

The lie to that statement is in the Government’s action in closing down the National Indigenous Television service (NITV) in what can only be described as an assimilation of Indigenous media, disempowering Indigenous voices.  An entire Indigenous media outlet has been handed over to be run for us by mainstream media.

Government and SBS bureaucrats, working behind the scenes, orchestrated the move to SBS Television despite protests from the NITV board and independent operators.

Indigenous television now sits as part of the SBS/ABC multicultural policies. Banished and condemned forever to be marginalised and with the tag of ethnic in their own country, a country they once owned.

The SBS colonisation of Indigenous media flies in the face of the UN article 16 reference to Indigenous Broadcasting.

“Indigenous people have the right to establish their own media, in their own languages, and have access to all forms of non-Indigenous media without discrimination”

There were many problems in the way NITV was set up. One problem was underfunding; the Productivity Commission recommended that $92 Million over 5 years be invested.  The Government funded $42Million over the same period.  Mistakes were also made with how NITV negoiated with existing indigenous media, but these are normal teething problems for a complex new organisation. SBS went through them in treir early days, as did the ABC in a less complex media environment- all they had to do was set up some radio stations. That doesn’t mean that you undermine the principle of   what Indigenous Media means, which is thatwe are in charge of it and we are responsible for it.

The principal function of SBS is to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia’s multicultural society. The charter also says they will contribute to meeting the communications needs of Australia’s multicultural society, including ethnic, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities;

That does not give SBS, ABC or for that matter independent film makers the right to plunder Australia’s indigenous content and package it, then call it Indigenous Media.

I am not saying that Indigenous people should not be working at SBS/ABC or other mainstream media, or that their work is not good enough.  But the potential is there for Indigenous people working in mainstream media and indigenous media to become invisible and for everyone to lose track of the real meaning of Indigenous Media.

It is not for the SBS and ABC management and boards to position themselves to determine the future of Australian overall culture, and what is good for us all.  With SBS and ABC, the commitment to providing for all -Australians only seems to kick in for Aboriginal people if extra resources are provided, rather than being a fundamental commitment, like to provide Greek language programming for Greek Australians, or Doctor Who for Geek Australians.

The SBS submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Indigenous Broadcasting, presented to the Government in May 2004, made the following comment.:

Our difficulty insofar as Indigenous Australians are concerned is that in non metropolitan regions we don’t have the network to cover for their needs for the time being; we don’t have the facilities, both transmitters and frequencies, to broadcast to them.

Even though it is part of their charter they were not going to do it without more funding.

VAST spectrum is now used by SBS to carry NITV and ABC to deliver indigenous programs into remote areas, and it may look like they are meeting their charter. But putting but a set top box in a remote community, still doesn’t mean they have indigenous media.

The ABC told the Productivity Commission that it will continue discussions with Indigenous organisations about possible programming, training and development options in the digital environment. However the ABC indicated that it would not be able to carry an Indigenous television service. This is what they told the commission:

The ABC requires the entire spectrum allocated to it to provide a package of digital services that meets anticipated audiences need’s and enables the ABC to leverage content across its networks to achieve appropriate audiences reach, efficiency and effectiveness.

 The ABC has no capacity to provide a multiplex ‘Piggy back’ style arrangement to third parties. It plans to use the digital spectrum allocated and will absorb the entire available spectrum.

They would say that wouldn’t they. Just look at the channels and spectrum that the ABC/SBS has between them and ask who is the loser.

Warehousing is the term bandied around. Both SBS and ABC should be put under the hammer and real spectrum carved off for Indigenous purposes, and that should be managed and operated by Indigenous people.

The Imparja spectrum will carry a second Indigenous channel that will cover some of the remote towns. Second prize to the remote communities who continue to be sent to the back of the queue as they attempt to bring more appropriate Indigenous content to their own people.

Mick Gooda said he welcomes the establishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategic Dialogue Group (ATSISDG). Oh please, not another group of blackfella academics and experts.

They need to take off their rose colored glasses. Come down from the air-conditioned comfort of their offices, start walking the walk and get their hands dirty.

They should all have a gap year and go and work on an aboriginal community. Experience living under a blue tarp and have someone tell you the intervention is going to make your life better.

12 years ago Australia’s real Indigenous Media organisations agreed on a road map for the future. The Government partly funded a small element of that plan, and that was what became NITV.  The road map still shows us the way and they should come back to that and work with Indigenous Media in good faith and a real intention, so we can succeed.  Come on, get real.

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