Managing the optics of the Intervention

Indigenous peoples Indigenous Northern Territory

Anticipating media coverage is now a key element in the development of Indigenous policy, report Kerry McCallum and Lisa Waller in Inside Story

FIVE years ago, on 21 June 2007, Australian armed forces descended on remote Indigenous communities with the national news media forming a rearguard. The media’s role in defining the Indigenous policy “crisis” that triggered the Northern Territory Emergency Response – the NTER or the Intervention – is well recognised, and the media continues to play its part as a policy trigger. But the news media shapes Indigenous affairs in this country in many other ways too. In a three-year project, we are currently investigating the ways in which “media logic” has permeated the practices of Indigenous affairs policy professionals at every level, from minister to junior bureaucrat, and its consequences for the lived experience of Indigenous Australians.

The Australian News Media and Indigenous Policymaking 1988–2008 project examines the role that Australia’s news media has played in the shifting and uncertain twenty-year policy history of Indigenous affairs between the bicentenary celebrations of 1988 and the national apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008. It has a strong focus on the Howard years, 1996–2007. We have investigated the media-related experience of those deepest inside the policy-making processes – the public servants responsible for developing, implementing and promoting Indigenous affairs policies. We have found that they are equipped with “media logic” involving a range of skills and tools to monitor, pre-empt and react to news media representation of their policy field. Many are also expert in critiquing the practices of journalism and politics and their consequences for policy.

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