"It should not be the case in 2009 that Aboriginal people live [on average] 17 years less than the wider community", National Indigenous Television CEO Pat Turner said at the October 14 launch of Living Strong. The new program on NITV focuses on improving the health of Aboriginal people in remote, rural and urban communities.
NITV is Australia's only national television service produced for and by Aboriginal people. Its website says NITV aims to "improve the lives of [Aboriginal] people", as well as preserve and celebrate Aboriginal languages and cultures.
For many years, Aboriginal people demanded the right to have their languages and culture reflected in the media. This resulted in the development of well-respected publications such as the National Indigenous Times, Koori Mail and the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA). In the medium of national television, however, Aboriginal content was limited to designated programs lasting a couple of hours a week.
The launch of NITV in 2007 changed that. With 70% Aboriginal staff, and sourcing content from a range of community-based Aboriginal media outlets, NITV is fast becoming "the portal through which to view the rich tapestry of Indigenous Australia through contemporary innovative programming produced by Indigenous people", say media kits for Living Strong.
Turner told Green Left Weekly there had already been some content broadcast in Aboriginal languages. "We'd certainly like to do more work in language. The issue here is money, having enough funding."
NITV is available on various free-to-air and pay TV services across Australia, and reaches 8 million viewers, Turner said.
The launch was an occasion to celebrate, but there was also a sober note. NITV sees Living Strong as an important contribution to "closing the gap" — addressing the appalling discrepancies in health outcomes and life expectancy between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.
The Rudd Labor government has made "closing the gap" a key plank in its Aboriginal affairs policies; the words, at least, if not the action needed to achieve such an important goal.
However, Turner told the gathering that NITV had no ongoing funding commitment beyond June 2010. She said although pressure on the public purse was now greater than ever, NITV was worth defending.
She urged people present to pressure federal arts minister Peter Garrett (whose department funds NITV) and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to commit to ensuring the network's survival.
"We're doing everything we possibly can to procure funding", Turner told GLW. "We'll look for other sources of revenue ... but we'll never be able to get the money that we need, at this point in time ... without the federal government's support."
[To find out how to view NITV in your area, visit www.nitv.org.au.]