Will Indigenous Media Survive Abbott's Funding Shake Up?


While the eyes of the media world rest on the government cuts to the ABC, media professionals from some of the most remote areas in the country have converged to promote the historically underfunded but vitally important remote Indigenous media sector.

The National Remote Indigenous Media Festival kicked off in Bamaga in the Northern Peninsula Area, right at the tip of Cape York, this week.

150 professionals from around the country – from as far west as the Kimberleys to the Central Desert to the Torres Strait – are singing the success stories of a sector that is so used to being overlooked.

Indigenous broadcasting has a long history in Aboriginal communities stretching back to the 70s when the first community Indigenous broadcasting programs were aired. In the 80s, Remote Indigenous broadcasters in over 80 sites around the country were given basic equipment to produce and air their own stories to their own communities.

Today the remote Indigenous sector has grown to more than 130 communities which provide a vital services. Not only do they broadcast news, produce local stories and air transport and emergency service information, they also have a wider role to play in job creation and skills development.

Queensland Remote Aboriginal Media (QRAM)’s Gilmore Johnston told the conference yesterday that Indigenous broadcasting needed to “come together as one voice”.

“We come together for this festival, and we come together as one voice. Media is a very important, powerful tool to maintain and preserve the ancient culture which all of us are proud to have in our blood.”

But the sector faces several challenges, including the unreliability of government funding in the current political environment.

Under the Abbott government’s Indigenous Advancement Strategy, 150 programs have been shaved down to five program funding streams, meaning Indigenous broadcasters, both remote, regional and urban, will have to compete against mainstream broadcasters for funding to service their communities.

Business and individuals, even non-Indigenous, will be able to compete for funding against Indigenous community broadcasters under the same program stream.

But it can also represent new horizons for the sector, the head of the Australian Indigenous Communications Association Conan Fulton says.

“This represents an opportunity for Indigenous broadcasters to expand and promote the services they actually do. You can seize the IAS as an opportunity for Indigenous media communications to get recognition for the development role they play in Indigenous communities,” Mr Fulton says.

“We provide education, employment, training opportunities… and it’s also a time for the government to properly engage with the Indigenous media sector in the delivery of their programs and services.”

Amy McQuire is the print representative for the Australian Indigenous Communications Association, the peak body for Indigenous media

A Darumbul woman from central Queensland, Amy McQuire is the former editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine.