History of the Remote Indigenous Media Sector

RIBS, or BRACS as they were previously known, were established under the former Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme (BRACS) in 1987 by the then Federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA).  This was an outcome of the DAA taskforce (headed by Eric Willmott) report Out of the Silent Land to develop the first policies and strategies for Indigenous broadcasting, and to attempt to reduce the impact of the imminent AUSSAT satellite broadcasting on remote communities. The program provided transmission equipment for local broadcast of radio and video services being beamed from the new AUSSAT satellite along with equipment to produce and transmit locally produced radio and video programs over the incoming signal.

In 1988, special class licences were developed and 81 communities were gazetted as eligible to operate licenced BRACS transmission facilities.  These were converted to full community broadcasting licences in 1992.  An additional 20 communities were included as BRACS communities as part of the BRACS Revitalisation Strategy (BRS) from 1993 making a total of 101, but were only granted Open Narrowcast licences despite being active community broadcasters.  The BRS was established by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), which took over the provision of government funding for Indigenous broadcasting and communications, to address the issues of the initial BRACS rollout, which did not provide sufficient training, technical support, coordination or recurrent funding. [1]

In January 1993, a draft policy statement was circulated to Indigenous broadcasters for comment and input.  It became known as ATSIC’s first Indigenous broadcasting policy. The five key areas it covered were:

  • Equity considerations: Indigenous people should have the right to full access to information and entertainment available through national and regional media.
  • Cultural restoration, preservation and growth:  Broadcasting has the potential to provide communities with means to maintain languages and cultures.
  • Efficiency of Communication: Indigenous access and/or control of local radio and television can substantially improve delivery and exchange of vital information on issues like health, child welfare, substance abuse, domestic violence, education etc.
  • Employment: Indigenous control provides employment and training opportunities in urban and remote communities and the possibility of access to mainstream media employment.
  • Enhanced self-image: Watching or listening to culturally and linguistically relevant programming, enhances a sense of worth and community profiles.

By the late 1990s five regional radio networks - 8KIN (CAAMA), PAKAM, TEABBA, 5NPY and Warlpiri (now PAW) were established for the regional distribution of radio programs networked direct from remote communities and transmitted by the AURORA satellite service.

In 1997, ATSIC commissioned a national report on BRACS, which was undertaken by Neil Turner to detail outcomes of the BRACS Revitalisation Strategy and make recommendations for the development of remote Indigenous media.

The first annual BRACS festival in 1998 was held in Walungurru (Kintore) NT and hosted by Warlpiri Media to showcase the hundreds of videos being produced by remote communities each year. This has been followed by annual festivals held in BRACS communities across Australia to celebrate remote Indigenous media over the past 10 years.

In 1998, Imparja's Channel 31 was used for a series of broadcasts by PY Media staff and Warlpiri Media Manager, Tom Kantor. These initial broadcasts consisted of Inma Pulka and Bush Mechanics and were received by PAKAM in Broome, NIRS in Brisbane, Warlpiri Media in Yuendumu, and PY Media in Umuwa and Ernabella. These broadcasts were known as "Feeding the Beam”.

In 2001, IRCA was formally established at the 3rd Remote Media Festival in Umuwa SA. The concept of an Indigenous Community Television (ICTV) was also developed at this event in 2001.  Regular broadcasts of ICTV, known as “IRCA in Action”, began in 2002 on Imparja’s 2nd narrowcast satellite channel 31. This followed a test broadcast on the channel by Warlpiri Media, PY Media and PAKAM in 1998. The program grew to a regular daily program in 2003, and by 2006, the ICTV service was broadcasting community-produced content full-time. In 2006, IRCA successfully lobbied for $2million funding from DCITA to establish a dedicated RIBS TV transmitter rollout to enable 147 remote communities across Australia to receive the ICTV service.  With the re-allocation of the Imparja Channel 31 to the newly established NITV in July 2007, the ICTV service was left without a satellite channel. Following a 2-year hiatus, the ICTV service returned in November 2009 as weekend broadcasts using the Westlink satellite channel.  Remote audiences are very pleased to have their ICTV back again.

ATSIC (and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services in 2003-4) were the principal body funding Indigenous broadcasting until the Australian Government changed the arrangements for the administration of Indigenous affairs in July 2004.  The Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA) then took over the responsibility for managing the Indigenous Broadcasting Program (IBP), and in 2007 it was transferred to the new Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA). 

The level of funding for Indigenous broadcasting has remained relatively unchanged since the late 1990s, with the IBP program increasing only slightly from $12million to $14million since 1996. Demand for funding support under the IBP has increased significantly over that time as the Industry has grown with funding requests for projects of more than $27million.

In 2006, the Federal Government undertook a review of the Indigenous Broadcasting Program. Unfortunately the Review process was flawed. A Discussion Paper was circulated with a call for submissions from the sector, along with a stakeholders’ meeting held in Canberra. Despite the Industry rejecting many of the key proposals outlined the Discussion paper, particularly the proposal for IBP to become specifically for radio production and broadcasting, it was implemented in entirety. DCITA staff decided that the soon-to-be launched NITV service would henceforth cover all video production through a commissioning process. For the remote sector, whose scope of activities had grown beyond the original video and radio production, to include IT programs, technical services, telecommunications projects, and archiving and music development in some areas, this policy change was a major setback. It has been devastating to the role of video and cultural recordings in remote communities.

When the Indigenous Television Review was announced in 2005, the remote media sector supported the establishment of a National Indigenous TV service for national audiences, with ICTV to continue to broadcast to the remote community audiences.   However, the decision to fund a single NITV service without a dedicated carrier in 2006 led to a rift in the sector when ICTV lost its channel to NITV. Further, the high end commissioning model imposed by the NITV Board effectively excluded the remote producers, and to date almost none of the $63.7million[2] funding has made its way to the remote sector.  

Efforts by ICTV to pitch a compilation series, entitled ’Jukurpa: From the Desert to the Sea’, to NITV for over a year broke down for a number of reasons including an insistence of NITV to impose a mainstream commissioning model which was completely at odds with the way material is produced in remote communities and the spirit in which the remote sector operates.[3]  The Canberra-based formula that all video program costs including content production, training, resources, HR and technical support, previously funded under IBP would now be covered under NITV’s production funding was never realistic or feasible.

In 2009, ICTV successfully negotiated with the Western Australian Government to distribute ICTV via the Westlink channel on the Aurora satellite platform each weekend.  After more than 2 years without a channel, ICTV began beaming back out to remote communities on 13th November 2009.  While many communities are manually switching the decoder to receive the service, some RIMOs have used generated income to purchase timed switchers and install in communities to automatically switch to ICTV each weekend. In addition to the IBP, DEWHA continues to provide funds for Indigenous broadcasting via the Community Broadcasting Foundation (CBF). This funding supports program grants, development grants and special projects grants.  The Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP) program has also supported payment of media workers in remote communities, but with the winding up of CDEP, many of these employees were transferred to the newly established National Jobs Package program in mid-2009. 

Despite all of these setbacks, the remote media sector continues on “fighting fire with fire”[4]. IRCA and ICTV launched the Indigitube website in 2008 to share remote Indigenous radio services and video programs to broader audiences.  It is currently being upgrade with more functionality.  The annual remote Media Festival continues to grow each year. The recent Leadership training and Digital Technical Forum have shown the professionalism in the sector and the dedication to best practice in governance and community engagement. IRCA and the RIMOs are working together to develop a vibrant remote media and communications Industry into the future. 

 

[1] p.7, Turner, Neil. “National Report on the Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme”.  NIMAA 1998.

[2] $48.5million for 2006/7-2009/10 and $15.4million for 2010/11

[3] The original NITV Business Plan proposed an eight-hour window each day for ICTV aggregated content. The model recognized the importance of including ICTV content in the NITV slate of programming.

[4] The catch-cry for BRACS, in its early days.