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Aboriginal voices under fire – NITV News and NIT newspaper

by Gerry Georgatos

For weeks now the rumours have swirled that National Indigenous Television would come under the crossfire of reduced funding by Government to SBS. Weeks ago, insiders at NITV told me that their signature piece, the daily NEWS program, was slated for replacement by a ‘cheaper’ format. They said that NITV stalwart, Malaarndirri McMarthy was “holding the fort as the razor gang were coming from all quarters”.
NITV News is indeed the signature piece of National Indigenous Television. It is news from around the nation through the Aboriginal eye, through the Aboriginal, lens, through the Aboriginal voice. News formats are one of the most expensive programs of any station, with staff and production teams located around the nation. These regional journalists are also responsible for stringing in stories to other programs too. But let us call a spade a spade. Are the ABC, SBS and any other television station considering doing away with their news programs?
So why then is the only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander national television news program under fire?
I was recently at SBS’ NITV studio, and it is a hub of activity with dedicated journalists and production personnel. I have met all of NITV’s regional correspondents many times over in my travels. They bring out the stories and with the pitch that the majority of non-Aboriginal journalists are not able to accurately report. It does not matter how good the eye of a non-Aboriginal journalist into Aboriginal issues, it will rarely match that of an Aboriginal eye. It takes a long lived experience for non-Aboriginal journalists and commentators to have a good level of insights of Aboriginal issues.
It is should have been unimaginable for SBS of all television networks to propose the cost cutting revamp of the news program. In stripping away NITV News from NITV to some extent NITV will become not much more than a Discovery or History Channel. NITV should remain the diverse voices of the descendants of the First Peoples of this continent. NITV should remain the property of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It should have a Black Board utterly controlling its destiny. SBS should be honoured to assist with free to air access. But this should be the limit of their remit.
I know that in a meeting with SBS producers the other day Ms McCarthy stood solid, defending the rights of her peoples.
In the last year we have seen Tracker magazine shut down and recently The National Indigenous Times forced into administration – though the NIT has survived. If the NITV News were to go it would be a huge loss to the landscape. There are only four truly national First Peoples voices – NITV, NIT, the Koori Mail and the National Indigenous Radio Service (NIRS). All of them do a great job, complementing each other.
“It is difficult times but we are hanging in there, and only hanging in there because of Malaarndirri. She’s fighting for all of us. But it maybe that in the weeks ahead many of us are out of a job,” said one insider.
SBS has said that it is looking at its programs and at their “audiences’ consumption patterns”. But let us remember who the audience is for NITV News. Let us remember what NITV News is also about; it is about being heard, it is about stating to the rest of Australia as it is, it is about educating the rest of Australia, and it is not about following any assimilationist pattern.
It is understood that the long running SBS program, Living Black, is also under threat. This would be a shame.
Indeed if NITV News were to be stolen from its people this would be a total shame job.
Last year, two of the twenty five tables at the Multicultural and Indigenous Media Awards (MIMA) at NSW Parliament were the NITV and the NIT crews. I remember the NITV news team arriving half an hour after they concluded their 5:30pm half hour news program. At the time, the most well known face of the NITV News, Natalie Ahmat said to me, “Gerry, we did the program, downed tools, and came straight here.” There were 15 of the NITV crew at the MIMA, with regional correspondents, Danny Teece-Johnson and Craig Quartermaine having flown in. It was a big night with NITV News recognised for their journalism. It was also a big night for the National Indigenous Times, with three of us picking up some recognition for the usually unrecognised story telling that we do, for the voices that we bring to the fore. In 2013, it occurred that I was MIMA’s Journalist of the Year. Last year, Journalist of the Year was Malaarndirri. This year, the NIT and NITV faced the chop.

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