National Indigenous Television will be spiking its award-winning news service – NITV National News – in June, in a proposed restructure that has rocked the channel and brings into question the Special Broadcasting Services' (SBS) management of the 24-hour Indigenous television service.
Sources inside NITV, which was absorbed into SBS following a review of the Indigenous broadcasting sector in 2011, have told New Matilda that as part of the restructure, NITV National News will be taken completely off air.
New Matilda understands that at least one prominent Aboriginal presenter is expected to resign over the changes.
SBS’s current affairs program Awaken, headed by prominent Indigenous journalist Stan Grant, will be renamed and will replace NITV National News.
There are aims to make it into the black version of Channel Ten’s ‘The Project’. It is unclear whether it will be aired daily, or weekly.
Awaken was significantly re-structured from a current affairs investigative program into a panel show, similar to SBS’s Insight.
An SBS spokesperson would not confirm whether the news service would be cut when sent a series of questions this afternoon.
While the spokesperson also could not confirm whether the news service was safe, there were “no plans to reduce the amount of NITV news programming”, suggesting the program will be reduced to a different format like the panel show.
“What we are doing is looking at ways to ensure that our Indigenous news programming reflects audience consumption patterns and enables more Australians to access the news, right across the nation and on the platforms available to them,” the spokesperson said.
“This has been an extensive and ongoing process involving the teams at SBS News and Current Affairs, NITV and Living Black, and supported by research with our audiences.”
The spokesperson said there were no plans to make any changes to the number of staff working in the news team.
In addition to NITV National News, it is anticipated SBS Living Black will also be cut in June. It is the former flagship black current affairs program headed by Indigenous presenter Karla Grant.
Last December, SBS embarked on widely criticised programming changes following federal budget cuts of $25.2 million dollars from the multicultural broadcaster. One of the casualties was SBS’ Living Black, which was offloaded to NITV.
Living Black was then repackaged into a lifestyle show similar to ABC’s Message Stick.
The SBS spokesperson said Living Black would return “with a slight change of format, focusing on personal stories of Indigenous Australians”.
A source inside NITV said it was a way for SBS to cut a program without announcing it was cutting a program.
The loss of NITV National News will be keenly felt in Aboriginal communities across the country. The small but dedicated news team are a constant presence in Indigenous communities, and despite being under resourced, the team of journalists, headed by Executive Producer Malarndirri McCarthy, are able to cover the majority of news affecting First Nations communities across the country.
The service had humble beginnings, growing from a five-minute news bulletin in 2008, with rip-and-reads, to a 15-minute bulletin housed out of Sky News studios in Sydney.
It is now a 30-minute daily news program run out of SBS studios in Sydney, covering a range of areas from politics, to the arts and sport. NITV National News also has a presence in Canberra’s parliamentary press gallery.
NITV National News has in the past run footage of devastating child removals by police in regional New South Wales, Aboriginal rights protests ignored by mainstream media, and provides training for the next generation of young black journalists.
On Monday, its journalists were camped at the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy from the early hours of the morning, as protestors were threatened with eviction by the Aboriginal Housing Company (AHC).
The loss of NITV National News moves the channel further from dream of a well-resourced Indigenous media sector that is able to not only to provide a voice to black Australia, but also hold government to account.
The Stevens Review into Indigenous broadcasting, handed down in 2011, focused heavily on NITV and recommended a re-structuring of the service before government committed to renewed funding. It followed a year of uncertainty over the future of the channel.
Then Communications minister, Stephen Conroy finally announced the channel would merge with SBS, handing SBS an additional $63 million over four years in the 2012-13 budget.
It followed widespread rumours that NITV would fall under the control of the ABC.
NITV was moved to free-to-air television, broadcasting on SBS in December 2012.
The spokesperson also maintained that “NITV continues to have editorial responsibility over all programming decisions and content”.
That’s unlikely to ease the concerns of staff.