When Communications Minister Helen Coonan launched the new National Indigenous Television network (NITV) in Sydney on Friday the 13th of July she was on notice that there was something seriously wrong with the deal.

Black media politics in Australia can be vicious and the arrival of NITV has left some noses seriously out of joint, particularly those from the remote communities of the Indigenous Community Television (ICTV) network, which up to Black Friday the 13th of July broadcast on one of Australia’s largest TV footprints that NITV now claims for itself.

NITV is the newest kid on the block in Australian media and, as Coonan told the launch, it was built on the backs of bush blackfellas, “NITV builds on the pioneering work of Indigenous Community Television (ICTV) and I pay tribute to their trailblazing efforts.”

But tribute doesn’t compensate for pinching your broadcast footprint. The four Remote Indigenous Media Organisation (RIMO) members of ICTV, Warlpiri Media at Yuendumu , Pilbara and Kimberley Aboriginal Media in WA , Ngaanyatjarra Media in WA & the NT and Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Media, thought that their continued access to the satellite was guaranteed by the deal between Coonan and the Board of NITV. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Coonan knew there was trouble afoot before the NITV launch because award-winning documentary film maker Frank Rijavec sent her an open letter , urging a fundamental rethink of some aspects of the NITV rollout and seeking that NITV be held to Coonan’s preferred position of preserving a dedicated quota of NITV’s airtime for ICTV broadcasts.

Rijavec said the creation of NITV was, “…a clumsy shotgun wedding between disparate indigenous media interests that’s both doomed to fail remote communities and endanger the new NITV initiative.”

He described the NITV Commissioning Guidelines as overly restrictive and exclusive of ICTV and will effectively slam the NITV door in the face of remote media practitioners, “Imposing such a regime on…ICTV…[which is] based on principles of open access and responsiveness to community initiative, is a death sentence.”

There has been a bit of picking at this scab since Black Friday, but in The Weekend Australian Noel Pearson couldn’t help himself. Since Pearson started writing his regular column for The Australian more than a few have commented that he has a bright future in writing…comedy.

Pearson admits to knowing almost nothing about broadcasting, but, hey, total ignorance of a subject hasn’t stopped him before! To his credit Pearson takes the piss out of himself but it is the Board of NITV, who he describes as the “Uncle Toms, Aunt Jemimas, Steppin Fetchits and Jacky Jackies” typical of the “…impressive coalition of organisations and spokespeople who have condemned the Government”, who cop both barrels at short range.

Pearson says that it’s not good enough for these new Uncle Toms to one day be slamming the Government for its “…land theft, masquerading as humanitarian intervention” and the next to be doing a “… deal with these heartless, genocidal conservatives to stuff over the grassroots mob so they can get their black TV up.”

But Pearson’s self-righteous outrage shouldn’t be allowed to hide the real tragedy here, which is the loss of local TV broadcasts in the NT at the time they are most needed.

Howard’s NT intervention is an information vacuum and media access and public comment are being micro-managed out of Mal Brough’s and FACSIA’s offices in Canberra. This is a vacuum that the local broadcasters of ICTV, rather than a boutique station operating out of Sydney, are best placed to fill.

As the manager of one RIMO told Crikey last week, “People in our community know little about what the intervention, and the total cancellation of CDEP, will mean for them and their families. We think it is our responsibility to let people know what is happening. We send out some material in Warlpiri by radio but we really need that TV slot to do that job properly.”

One solution might be to give ICTV the 30% or so of NITV broadcast time they thought would be preserved in the deal done between NITV and the Government but on which they have now been so comprehensively dudded.