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National Indigenous TV set for launch

Pat Turner - National Indigenous TVThe National Indigenous Television service will go to air in just two months, fulfilling a long-held dream. Inaugural broadcasts will be transmitted to a potential audience of 220,000 scattered over remote areas of the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and western New South Wales. These will be carried on the second satellite channel of Indigenous run and Alice Springs based commercial broadcaster Imparja.

But will the NITV service live up to its working name and reach beyond remote Australia? For the management team recruited to run the new broadcaster it is a case of start small and grow step by step.

The broadcaster's new Chief Executive is Pat Turner (pictured), an Arrernte woman from Alice Springs with an enviable 28-year track record in the federal public service. This includes roles as deputy secretary in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Centrelink deputy CEO and Chief Executive of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

She was on the verge of retirement in Alice Springs when the job came up. At her first press conference in Sydney as CEO she confessed "I was really intrigued once I understood what was involved in this initiative and I thought, 'Well there's a challenge.' Indigenous Australians have advocated for a distinct Indigenous television service for over 25 years."

It is an astute appointment by the inaugural Board given the negotiations needed with the Federal government to ensure the new broadcaster's continuation.

In late 2006 Communications Minister Helen Coonan allocated $48.5 million to be spread over four years for the establishment of a National Indigenous television service. It is unclear what will happen to funding after four years.

However, Pat Turner is grateful that Minister Coonan has championed the service's establishment and cannot wait to showcase Indigenous programming, raising it from almost invisible current levels. "For Indigenous Australians, particularly our children, we do not see Indigenous faces on the screen. And the stories we do see are framed by news values of conflict and negativity."

Another crucial appointment is that of Paul Remati as NITV’s Director of Television. Remati's most recent position in a 25-year career was as Head of Television at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.

"Our mission for NITV is to celebrate and reflect the richness and diversity of Indigenous Australian cultures and deliver innovative, entertaining content to audiences throughout Australia and around the world," Remati said at his first public appearance in the role.

The new broadcaster wants to do this through acquiring and commissioning content from the expanding numbers of Indigenous industry creatives. Children's programming is a high priority, as is promoting and retaining Indigenous languages, one of which dies each year. The issue of language revival is so critical that the Board includes a representative of the national body for community-based Indigenous language programs.

Beyond the four-year funding issue key questions remain about Federal government policy on Indigenous TV: Remati is reported to have told the recent Australian International Documentary conference that "We've been told that we're not a broadcaster, but a content aggregator."

National Indigenous TV set for mid-year launchDuring the service's implementation phase this was a regular refrain from Canberra, begging the question of whether the service will ever be funded to deliver a full service rather than merely produce programming for other television broadcasters or content distributors. SBS experience confirms that discrete Indigenous programming attracts few national advertisers. Getting more Indigenous programming on television screens, and attracting Indigenous and non-Indigenous viewers, requires an Indigenous version of a full service as happens in other countries.

Across the Tasman, two-year old Maori TV broadcasts to four-fifths of New Zealand's population of four million via UHF and the entire country via the digital platform. It was attracting an average of around 400,000 viewers a month as of April 2006.

Then there is the issue of network branding. The Federal government insisted that the Service's initial transmission should be via Imparja's second satellite channel. The Federal government underwrites Imparja and this move may be seen as offering a bang for taxpayers' dollars. However, it creates difficulties for the new broadcaster in initially differentiating its service from its well-established distributor.

Having said all that I'll be celebrating when the new service goes to air, even though I won't be able to see it until it jumps on to platforms I can access in the big smoke.



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