On Monday this week indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin held a public meeting at Alice Springs to listen to the views of the town campers whose homes she intends to compulsorily acquire in the very near future.

CAAMA Radio has been providing a local news service to Alice Springs residents for nearly 30 years and now is one of the most-widely heard — in a geographical sense at least — news organisations in the country.

CAAMA was provided with ad copy by Minister Macklin’s department, FaHCSIA to publicise the meeting. As CAAMA’s Radio Manager Jim Remedio told Crikey, CAAMA broadcast that copy in order to:

“… promote the meeting … thoughout the CAAMA broadcast area — two-thirds of the country. There was nothing in the ad copy to indicate that it was anything other than a public meeting – they [FaHCSIA] did not specify that it was a closed meeting at all — it was a public meeting and that’s how we announced it.”

CAAMA was also engaged by FaHCSIA to provide audio services to the meeting and to record it for FaHCSIA. Jim Remedio again:

“CAAMA had a contract with FaHCSIA to record the whole meeting for their purposes – so we were already there to do that for them – we already had a crew and the gear there set up to do that inside the meeting”

But when the CAAMA crews fronted up to cover a public meeting of great relevance to their listeners — the unprecedented seizure of their homes and land by the Commonwealth Government — they were shown the door.

Jim Remedio described the events:

“We had the crew inside to do the recording and our radio crew and our online news crew turned up to get some film — background footage — and to get some grabs. Then we were told by the Minister’s minder that we were not allowed to go into the meeting.

“… the Minister’s very young and obviously inexperienced media advisor told us we weren’t to go in to the meeting and a verbal stoush broke out — then we were surrounded by NT Police and Federal Police who were there as well. When the Feds started to move towards our broadcasters, well, we knew that if we hadn’t backed down we would have been told to get and would be escorted off the premises — we chose to exercise a bit of decorum and discretion and left of our own accord.”

Remedio says that the issue of CAAMA’s excluson was raised in the meeting:

“During the meeting at least one of the traditional owners of Alice Springs, who had witnessed the exclusion asked the Minister, ‘Why was CAAMA not allowed inside reporting on the meeting?’.

“The Minister and her minders just said word to the effect that ‘Oh, this is a closed meeting.’

“The Minister kept saying ‘I’m here to listen’, and people in the meeting kept saying things to her like ‘Well, you are not even listening to what this woman is saying to you about letting CAAMA in here so that they can tell other people what has been happening here.”

Remedio is concerned at this close management of the media.

“The first thing that came to my mind were the images that we’ve been seeing recently coming from overseas. But this is Australia – this is not Iran or Burma or Iraq. There has always been some manipulation of the media – we accept that – but this it is getting worse than ever.

“Some questions that I’d ask the Minister are: What has she got to hide? Is she afraid of closer scrutiny of what she says and what people say to her at these meetings? We know that the local people want us to be there.”

Crikey asked Minister Macklin whether her office had a blanket policy of excluding local Aboriginal media from public meetings between her and her advisors and/or FaHCSIA staff and Aboriginal people and their representatives, particularly in relation to meetings that concern the NT Intervention and related issues.

There was no response before this morning’s deadline.

Peter Fray

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