The Indigenous media and communications sector
A vision for a nation:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders should be accorded respect as the First Australians and are afforded every opportunity to participate in Australian and international life: culturally, economically, socially, politically and digitally.
A vision for a sector:
- Indigenous voices – be they content, perspectives, cultures, music, concerns, aspirations, humour, and opinions – are heard over the airwaves, in the broadsheets, on the screen, and across the broadband.
With great enthusiasm throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and individuals in many parts of Australia established community based radio and television stations. The 1984 report on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander broadcasting and communications, Out of the Silent Land, recognised and celebrated the rich diversity and contributions of the talent and achievements of the Indigenous peoples of Australia in relation to broadcasting and communications.
Since that report, greater recognition has been given to the role that Indigenous individuals and organisations in the media and communications industry have played and continue to play in that sector with the objective of turning the tide of colonial history and cultural silence for the betterment of the nation.
Incorporated in 2004, the Australian Indigenous Communications Association Incorporated (AICA) represents Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders members of the national Indigenous media and communications industry. AICA advocates for and formulates policy on behalf of the Indigenous communications sector with business in radio, print, film, television, and information technology with remote broadcasting.
Development and funding allocations have historically been limited; primarily because of the perceived non-commercial aspects connected with remote Indigenous communities and costs associated with the establishment of effective communication technologies. Too often, ‘public value’ has been overlooked. Further, the unique communication structures in Indigenous communities normally involve mandatory considerations of the diverse language groups in each community and outside the designated community area; and respective state and territory legislation over these communities.
As communication technology became more widely accessible albeit limited, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations developed to own and control, subject to funding bodies’ requirements: over one hundred unique, small community radio and television broadcasting facilities in remote communities; dozens of community and radio stations in regional and urban centres; several community television services; a couple of commercial radio and TV services; video-conference facilities; and several community and commercial print and multi-media enterprises.
Although these developments are significant and commendable, the overall Indigenous broadcasting and media sector remains under-developed, under-resourced and under-employed. And its peak-level Association, AICA has faced many subtle challenges.
AICA’s policy development is formulated and revised within the context of a dynamic national communication and media industry with disparate government and industry stakeholders. In providing a national perspective and in fulfilling its advocacy and representational roles, AICA’s varying degrees of success in representing the sector is founded on acknowledging and respecting the individual status of each of its members and their respective communities.
The recent Stevens Report, Review of Australian Government Investment in the Indigenous Broadcasting and Media Sector (2010)has found that our sector needs to be better resourced and better recognised as the vital, powerful and professional media that it is. It has found that we strongly affect our peoples’ self esteem and well-being; and that we are well placed to embrace new media technologies, most critically in the way they attract our younger people.
It notes that “Despite the large number of reports and reviews into the sector over the past decade .. (the sector) is under-resourced, lacks critical capacity and skills and suffers from being administered across a range of portfolios.” (page 1).
The Indigenous Broadcasting Program is the responsibility of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE): http://www.dbcde.gov.au/home. See the Stevens Report at: http://www.dbcde.gov.au/radio/indigenous – click the Indigenous Broadcasting Review page link.
The Stevens Report also highlights the ways in which, as a crucial partner, the mainstream media can help to build our self-esteem, provide a sense of identity and community, and instill greater pride within our communities, and in so doing, contribute more broadly to Australia’s national cultural identity.
The Stevens Report refers to the ongoing challenge of achieving progress towards Closing the Gap for the First Australians and emphasises First Australians media’s contribution by providing employment and training opportunities to Indigenous people.
To avoid falling off the edge and to assist in closing the gap of unfairness and disadvantage, it says that, we need to be “empowered and resourced to get on with the job”. We need good governance, flexible approaches to account for our disparate communities, and the tools to enable us to meet the future. See the fourth annual report on progress in Closing the Gap, tabled in Parliament in 2012:http://fahcsia.gov.au/sa/indigenous/overview/Pages/default.aspx
In the same way as the whole nation, First Australians’ media need to soon and quickly adapt and take advantage of rapidly converging broadcasting and communications technologies, the looming digital switchover and the enormous opportunities that are being opened up with the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) – particularly media in regional and remote areas. Read about media convergence at: http://www.dbcde.gov.au/digital_economy/convergence_review
The NBN and media convergence present the opportunity to position First Australians’ media to take a technological leap forward by using cost effective and flexible means to produce, view, preserve and revitalise local communities’ cultural content or informational material.
Encouraging “Australia’s Indigenous traditions of creative expression stretch back millennia before European settlement” the Australian Office for the Arts’ recent National Cultural Policy Discussion Paper (2011) notes: “In the Australian Government’s commitment to Closing the Gap, the celebration of our Indigenous culture and heritage has extended to building businesses based on the arts, and using cultural support to strengthen Indigenous communities, including through maintaining and reviving Indigenous languages. See the discussion paper at: http://culture.arts.gov.au/discussion-paper
With all of these changes and challenges, various community owned and operated media organisations have partnered with AICA to develop a plan to renew our fabulous community broadcasting sector and create an innovative, accessible community media and communications sector.
AICA will build upon its stakeholder and partner relations to better enable learning and development throughout the sector. AICA will develop as the primary advocate for First Australians media.