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Developments in First Nations Media in Australia since 2001

Reflecting on the changes and challenges in the remote media sector, by Daniel Featherstone



The First Nations media industry in Australia has developed significantly over the last 40 years. It emerged from the Black Rights struggle for self-representation and self-determination in the cities and the response by remote communities to the risk of cultural ‘genocide’ from mainstream media beamed down via AUSSAT. In an era of declining mainstream media diversity in regional and remote Australia, the need for trusted information sources in locked down communities during the COVID pandemic, discussions of treaty, truth-telling and a voice to parliament following the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a strong First Nations media is needed now more than ever.  

In this article, I will take a personal approach to the changes I've seen in the sector over the last 20 years. I'll begin with my early days in the sector in late 2001, as Manager of Ngaanyatjarra Media, when peak body NIMAA was folding and remote peak body Indigenous Remote Communications Association (IRCA) was being established and remote TV service Indigenous Community TV (ICTV) was first discussed.  I saw the growth in the remote sector during the 2000s, and the dynamic and diverse role that remote media organisations played across the country during the era of digital transformation and the hope of the communications revolution coming to the bush. During the 2000s a new peak body AICA was formed, NITV was established (at the expense of the remote ICTV service), and divisions grew within the sector between remote and urban, radio and TV, traditional broadcasting and new communications platforms and players.  

Having left Ngaanyatjarra Media in 2010, I began doing policy work for IRCA before becoming General Manager in 2012.  I oversaw a range of industry development projects at IRCA up to 2016, including the annual Remote Indigenous Media Festival, a comprehensive audit of RIBS and RIMOs, re-development of online platform indigiTUBE, establishment of the Broadband for the Bush Alliance and establishment of digital inclusion project inDigiMOB.  In 2016, IRCA was tasked by the government to expand its role and representation to become the 5th national peak body First Nations Media Australia (FNMA). From 2016-18, in an effort to unify a divided sector, we developed an annual national conference CONVERGE, a national awards ceremony, a ‘9 Calls for Action’ policy agenda and the 'Our Media Matters' campaign to build awareness and support.   

A series of ‘Our Media’ statements were developed by FNMA’s members to highlight the sector’s core values and the important role First Nations media organisations play in their communities. Slogans such as ‘Our media is our identity’, ‘Our media connects our communities’, ‘Our media keeps culture strong through the generations’ – speak to the significant historic and ongoing role of the First Nations media sector. They also speak of creating jobs and skills, educating, entertaining and building bridges with the wider community. The ‘Our media’ statements describe the essential role the sector plays and the passion and resilience that has kept it going for over 40 years despite the lack of updated policy and under-resourcing.  At a time when the voices of First Nations people are changing public consciousness and our country is edging closer to truly reconciling its history of conflict and oppression, First Nations media matters now more than ever before.