I recall the thrill in 1980 of discovering SBS television. I was captivated by the station’s ident, promising to ‘bring the world back home’. I still appreciate the diversity that SBS television offers, but it was clear even from early on that it was not the entire world being brought back home. (Although there were some good European documentaries that brought home a wider portion of the world than solely English speaking ones, albeit from a European perspective.) It was clear from the beginning that the SBS television world consisted of non-English Europe and Asia.
More recently, in 2007*, NITV was launched. Once again this was a cause for celebration – not only for finally having Indigenous presence (apparently Indigenous programming had previously averaged at about two hours per week), but for me as a Black person to finally see Black-made programs for a Black audience!
Of particular resonance for me is the presence of Indigenous African productions. NITV offers more than just white reporters or white film makers setting their African themed stories in Africa. For the first time, I find myself able to turn on the television and see an African program for an African audience.
At other times I turn on NITV and see Black American documentaries. I also discover Black produced US drama and comedy made for a Black audience. The nature of these shows is different from those produced from a white perspective. Black characters aren’t limited to supporting or decorative roles. The stories aren’t restricted to how white people see Black stories. They don’t merely depict Blacks in relation to white people. And they aren’t created to conform to white sensibilities. In these productions the Black characters are central, the perspectives are Black, the voices are Black, and the audience is expected to understand Black experiences.
It is also interesting to note that the Blacks in these NITV shows are neither Indigenous American nor Indigenous Australian. What these productions have in common with Australian Indigenous experience is the experience of Blackness. For me this affirms the important relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Blackness in this country. Regardless of whether that history begins in America, Africa, Australia or some other place, the colonisation of Black people creates a continuity of experience. In NITV, Indigenous people make choices for Indigenous television. These Indigenous people are valuing the visibility of non-Indigenous Black representation more than the programmers of any other Australian television station.
I am grateful to NITV for including non-Indigenous Black people’s voices. If not for NITV, where would people such as myself find racial representation on free-to-air television?
*I first received NITV in 2012, when it began broadcasting on SBS.