Tony Smith. There is a hole in my heart where NITV News used to be

There are times when the rhetoric about ‘closing the gap’ between
Indigenous Australians and the rest of the population sticks in the
throat. This week I turned on my preferred television news source – the
5.30 bulletin on National Indigenous TeleVision (SBS4) – and found that it
had disappeared.

The ‘gap’ refers to the statistics showing the disadvantages suffered by
the Indigenous peoples relative to other Australians. In fact, there are
numerous gaps, in almost every social indicator: employment, income,
housing, incarceration, violence, kidney and heart disease, literacy,
education, infant mortality and life expectancy. At times, governments
seem committed to finding solutions to these problems. At others, they
seem to do little more than go through the motions while tacitly endorsing
processes of assimilation. But any realistic solutions must acknowledge
the ravages of dispossession and make urgent attempts to allow Indigenous
people to regain their unique identities, something they will surely do if
the broader Australian society avoids the kind of discrimination we have
hitherto practised.

NITV News had the motto ‘our stories, our way’ and was faithful to this
aim. Here were stories that were not reported on mainstream channels and
were generally ignored by media with a few exceptions. There were reports
about threats to sacred sites, potential damage to fragile environment,
overt and covert racism, government policies, bureaucratic bungling and
proposed legislation. But the reports were always presented in a humble
fashion without the pontification customary on other news sources.
Relevant Ministers were approached often and whenever they appeared, were
given generous time to put the government side. Again, this is unusual in
television today when reporters seek to provide their own context, so
skewing stories to their own views.

Very importantly, NITV News carried positive stories about Indigenous
people and their achievements: positive developments in health, justice
and employment and stories about members of the community supporting one
another.

NITV News provided many positive spinoffs. As a result of turning to NITV,
I discovered programs about Indigenous cooking, traditional culture,
dancing and music among the young, grassroots sports action, classic
movies and even found the Maori news report on weekends.

Successive governments have found Aboriginal affairs a difficult policy
area. They have thrown money at Indigenous ‘problems’ but the problems
remain. They have devised slogans such as Reconciliation. They have
advanced a woolly idea about Constitutional recognition. But they have
failed to create mechanisms whereby diverse Indigenous voices could be
heard. Indigenous leaders have continually appealed for genuine
consultation but these appeals have not been heard.

Perhaps we really do not want to listen to what Indigenous people have to
say. Apparently we doubt that the people who preserved the fragile
Australian ecosystem for hundreds of bicentenaries have anything to teach
us. Perhaps it is part of a broader re-focussing of our listening away
from small, local communities on the ground towards what big business says
through its mouthpieces in politics. Generally, the propaganda is about
job creation and being able to ‘afford’ environmental concerns. We can’t
dig up the Hunter Valley, the Liverpool Plains, the Pillaga Scrub to
export if we listen to grassroots voices like those on NITV News, can we?

Tony Smith is a former academic living in Wiradjuri country.

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