COMMENT | The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody saw that Indigenous-controlled media could counter the negative portrayal of Indigenous people and Recommendation 205 led to funding of NITV, alongside a range of other Indigenous controlled-media organisations. NITV's channel manager Tanya Denning-orman reflects on the importance of Indigenous people controlling their own stories, images and reporting of news and current affairs.
Tanya Denning-Orman

14 Apr 2016 - 5:15 PM  UPDATED 14 Apr 2016 - 5:15 PM

Shaun Harris: Hi Tanya how've you been keeping?

Tanya Denning-Orman: I'm ok thanks. How are you? I hope you are looking after yourself?

Shaun Harris: That's good to hear. I'm trying but it’s been very hectic with all these deaths in custody biz but will still keep fighting strong for us all. It's just over a week to Julieka's Anniversary - it's getting me and us down somewhat but the show will go on and we've now locations in Geraldton, Perth, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, and I just found out that South Hedland are now planning one too.     Thank you tremendously again for the help and support. It's invaluable and not just for our fight for Julieka, but also for all of our lost ones and our next generation. I feel like we are somewhat making progress of some sorts on the broader scale of our black and human rights. Thank you again Tanya. 


12th December 2012. The day NITV launched from the heart of the nation is one that I will never forget.

With the sacred and spiritual site of Uluru as our meeting place, under the heat of the desert sun and at the moment the clock struck midday. NITV transformed the Australian media landscape. Offering a national free 24 hour, seven days a week channel for stories made and told by our communities.

Standing next to the hosts and personal heroes of mine, Stan Grant and Rhoda Roberts, and surrounded by the women of Mutujulu, my moment to speak as the Channel Manager of NITV arrived.

I froze.

Live TV wasn’t new to me but the realisation of the legacy passed on and the expectations we needed to deliver, jolted me, leaving me without breath.

NITV represented more than another number on the dial in the multi-channel, ratings-driven universe we were born into. I remember thinking to myself, how on earth were we going to be able to meet the expectations of those who got NITV to the place it was that day? 

How would we compete with the format-driven commercials and deliver to our Indigenous audiences – on a budget one drama series would cost - and why would we dare try?

The channel's journey began long before 2012, long before our very first narrowcast broadcast, when we beamed to the bush in 2007 after being established from a verandah in Alice Springs.

“From little things, big things grow. You work hard my dear girl and don’t forget,” former NITV CEO Pat Turner would say, pointing her long Arrernte finger at me.

But the community struggles and protests to get NITV ‘switched on’ were not ‘little’. It was decades in the making, which finally had its breakthrough the day The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody tabled its 339 Recommendations.  

25 years ago today, a highly-invested Royal Commission would lay bare to all forms of Government and the Australian community, with the evidence to what our people had been saying all along – ‘We need to control our media’ and it was a matter of life and death.

The Commission recognised that the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Indigenous people in mainstream media affected:

  • Public perception of Indigenous people
  • Public policy
  • Indigenous people’s self-perception

The Commission saw that Indigenous-controlled media could counter the negative portrayal of Indigenous people and Recommendation 205 led to funding of NITV, alongside a range of other Indigenous controlled-media organisations.

This allowed for Indigenous people to control stories, control images and control the reporting of news and current affairs.

It took until 2007 for NITV to be funded. The time was right for an innovative Indigenous-run organisation to properly represent the many voices of the country's First Australians. In July of that year, with a small staff team, NITV started beaming out across the bush. From an office in Alice Springs, a long-fought for milestone in modern Indigenous history was finally reached: a national Indigenous television service. By the end of that year, NITV was broadcast on Foxtel, Austar and Optus.

This milestone was the result of more than 25 years of campaigning by Indigenous Australians for the right to have our unique stories, languages, culture and aspirations accurately reflected within the media landscape.

Over those decades, the participation in the media industry by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders increased dramatically.  This coincided with the tireless work begun by organisations such as Brisbane Indigenous Media Association, Community Television, Walpiri Media, Ernabella Video and Television, and CAAMA - who all helped pave the way for NITV.

After an initial summit in Redfern in 2005, and following the concerted efforts of Indigenous media professionals around the country, the Federal Government supported the development of NITV with initial funding of $48.5 million over 4 years.

Now as part of SBS, everyday Australians would begin to connect with and switch on NITV to see the pride, the positivity, the laughter – many would see ‘us’ for the first time in their lives from a perspective of truth and empowerment.

Beyond the negative news headlines, NITV reflected and celebrated everything our culture had to offer. We inspired our youth and made our elders proud. And this still stands today.

Our news reports, which reflect Indigenous concerns and interests grew from an initial five-minute update to a daily 15 minute bulletin and in 2011, were extended to a live 30-minute weekday broadcasts. In 2016, NITV has shaped its news and current affairs to better meet the needs of Indigenous audiences.

The Point made by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody is that a significant cause of deaths is the negative portrayal of Indigenous people in mainstream media.

The Point made by the Commission was that Aboriginal people must have some control of the portrayal of their stories. 

This Point led to the development of Indigenous controlled media and particularly to an Indigenous controlled news service on National Indigenous Television. 

And this is The Point on NITV.  Each night at 9pm, one of Australia’s most prominent and internationally renowned journalists, Stan Grant, delivers the biggest issues impacting on and reflecting our communities. 

In the three years since that momentous broadcast at Uluru, NITV now stands firmly and proudly within the media industry – with recognition from the industry, including with Walkley and Logie nominations and Deadly Awards.

I started this piece with an honest Facebook exchange that I had with the Uncle of Julieka Dhu, which again reminded me of NITV’s significance and what we represent for our community.

Not a day goes by that this channel doesn’t take my breath away. Especially in weeks like this one. Whether it’s walking in the street, speaking at a function or in Canberra’s corridors of power, I am continuously reminded of the impact that is NITV.