Inside SBS and NITV's role in keeping Australians informed leading up to The Voice

Jason Pollock
By Jason Pollock | 18 September 2023
Tanya Denning-Orman.

With less than 30 days to go until The Voice referendum takes place, SBS and National Indigenous Television (NITV) are ensuring that Australians are being kept informed and up to date on the latest developments through a comprehensive and wide-ranging educational effort from the broadcaster. 

The SBS Voice Referendum portal brings together news and information from across the SBS network, including NITV, with articles, videos, and podcasts in more than 60 languages, including news, explainers, and information on how to enrol to vote and take part in the process.

The SBS On Demand Voice Referendum hub is a dedicated destination to stream SBS and NITV’s news and analysis and First Nations storytelling, while special programming to feature on NITV and SBS in the lead up to the vote includes NITV premieres, Insight and Dateline specials, and live broadcasts on the day of the referendum, and analysis in the days following as Australia reacts to a result.

Since the start of August, the Referendum Portal has seen a fourfold increase in daily users accessing SBS and NITV’s coverage, and Tanya Denning-Orman, director of Indigenous content at SBS, said that due to a combination of factors - the country not having gone to a referendum since the late 1990s, most Australians not having met or knowing an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person and the majority of the information about The Voice coming through the media - the accountability and responsibility of media in such a time is critical. 

SBS Referendum hub
The SBS Voice Referendum portal

“That's why we exist as a network, so it was really important to have a really strong coordinated approach, just to deliver to our purpose to ensure all Australians are informed in the languages they know and trust - beyond English, but also our First Nations community," Denning-Orman told AdNews

"Our population [as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders] is around 600,00 - 3% of the general population - but all voting Australians are making a decision and most of their information on this is coming through the media.

"We've got to do all we can and use the network to really cut through where traditionally, a lot of other media and newsrooms haven't reflected all the truth and all the facts of the matter.”

Denning-Orman said a major coordinated approach from the network was necessary because the broadcaster is trying to reach everyday Australians and part of that approach involves the likes of NITV current affairs program, The Point, which has been travelling throughout Australia to share voices from communities, engaging in debate and providing analysis, to help inform all Australians about the upcoming referendum.


Hosted by proud Wuthathi and Meriam man John Paul Janke and Whadjuk Noongar woman, Network Ten’s Narelda Jacobs (both pictured right)The Point: Referendum Road Trip will visit every Australian state and territory with special outdoor broadcasts, as well as live episodes from the studio on Cammeraygal Country in Sydney.

Since May, The Point has seen a 27% increase in viewing on NITV.

“We went to the regional areas, we've gone to remote communities, we've gone to every state and territory - that’s as much for our First Nations communities who are having to deal with this extra elevation of being in the spotlight, but also about Australians wanting to know what do our communities actually want," Denning-Orman said.

"That's why it was important to get outside our studios and really talk to and reflect the communities."

Denning-Orman said that everyone's talking about First Nation people at the moment, and whether it’s going to be an outcome of a yes or a no come October 14, Indigenous affairs is in the spotlight and is at the top of most news bulletins every day. 

“We wanted to make sure to remind Australians that we have SBS as the home of the Indigenous channel and First Nations perspectives,” she told AdNews.

“It's all about First Nations stories being Australian stories and if you live in this country, you’re part of this story.”

That focus on First Nations stories is the impetus behind a new creative promo that went to air overnight, running in various versions over the coming months with the creative handled in-house by the NITV and the SBS marketing team.

The TVC emphasises SBS and NITV’s role in telling First Nations stories, with the channels, along with SBS On Demand, serving as places for audiences to tune into news, documentaries, movies and videos that inspire greater understanding of First Nations Peoples, histories, and cultures.

Elsewhere, the Beyond 3% initiative, an initiative created by SBS Media to combat the less than 0.3% of advertising in Australia invested in media dedicated to reaching the 3.3% of the Australian population that are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, is gaining steam.

Beyond 3% seeks to engage media agencies to begin to address this gap by learning more about the role and value of First Nations media in Australia today, doing more to contribute to inclusion in the sector, and re-thinking media spend by committing to increasing investment in Indigenous media platforms to at least a 3% target.

The latest development sees NRMA Insurance partner with NITV, which marks the largest advertising investment by a single commercial brand in the First Nations broadcaster.

The partnership forms part of NRMA Insurance’s support of the Beyond 3% initiative, as it prepares to commit 3% of its broadcast media spend to First Nations media over the next year, which is planned and bought via Initiative Media.

The NITV partnership consists of a series of integrated initiatives including its recent broadcast sponsorship of NITV’s coverage of the 2023 Garma Festival, NITV’s broadcast of its series Going Places with Ernie Dingo, and investment in the creation of a special short-form content series for NITV.

Tanya Denning-Orman

Denning-Orman (pictured right) said NITV is "a little old network doing a really big job" - nothing has been a given for the Indigenous channel.

"We want to play with the players, and in order to do that, we need the revenue and we need to grow the content, so we wanted to call out through the Media Federation of Australia to at least match our population spend, at least 3% of your commercial budget, into NITV or First Nations media so we can invest more in Indigenous made content," she said.

"That's why Beyond 3% is so critical, because it actually is purposeful - it goes into employment, it goes into content that gets made and it helps grow NITV so we can do what we need to do for all Australians.

"We're all in restricted times with budgets, but we're not asking for the world."

Denning-Orman said there's been some "really great" responses from brands to the initiative and she's both impressed and excited over it, saying it has "shifted the gears" for the channel.

"If you've been on the NITV journey, the elevation of NITV has happened from that revenue, from that commercialisation of the business; it has become good business to invest in good and invest in Indigenous affairs in this way," Denning-Orman told AdNews

"It's just really awesome that NRMA and Initiative have come through as the first major clients that have gone beyond three and we're looking forward to the Upfronts to showcase our year ahead and look forward to more investment coming our way.

"Whether it's a yes or a no, we don't want to lose this momentum of Australians considering the future of their nation and the elevation of [First Nations] stories. The stronger our storytelling sector is, the better informed all Australians are and we need that support in order to grow and do our job the best we can."

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