Today – 2 January – marks the twentieth anniversary of Imparja Television, Australia’s only indigenous-owned commercial TV station.

The path to launch day was less than a smooth ride. When the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (the predecessor to today’s ACMA) invited potential licencees to apply to operate the remote commercial television service (RCTS) for the Northern Territory and South Australia in 1984, there were eight applicants.

The field ultimately boiled down to two – the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA – owner of Imparja) and Television Capricornia (a company formed by Territory Television, the licencee of Darwin’s NTD8).

After two rounds of licence hearings, CAAMA was found to be the most suitable operator of the licence, but Television Capricornia appealed the decision – and lost. Television Capricornia then took their case to the Federal Court, but by the time the case was to be heard, Territory Television had been bought out by Kerry Packer’s Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL), owners of the east coast Nine Network. PBL made a last minute decision to drop the appeal, and CAAMA was allocated the licence.

Imparja’s first programming, Australia versus Sri Lanka in the Test Cricket, appeared on 2 January 1988. For the first time, viewers in Alice Springs and other remote communities in Northern Territory and South Australia were given an alternative to watching the national broadcaster ABC. Imparja was broadcast via terrestrial transmission in larger remote centres, but the signal was also available to direct-to-home satellite receivers within Imparja’s satellite footprint – a result of the new domestic satellite AUSSAT which had launched three years earlier.

Imparja was officially launched on 15 January 1988, providing a mix of typical commercial network programming (sourced from all three capital city networks) interspersed with Imparja’s own indigenous-themed programming such as children’s programs and local news.

By 1999, Imparja had expanded its coverage to include Mount Isa in Queensland, and the South East and North East satellite footprints – extending its signal to remote communities in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania not covered by existing terrestrial television signals – in competition with the Queensland-based satellite service aligned to the Ten Network that in turn had expanded into Imparja’s own coverage area.

The Queensland-based service, operated by Telecasters Australia (now part of the Macquarie Media Group), was then re-aligned to the Seven Network, leaving Imparja with a dual Nine and Ten network feed.

From July 2007, the new national indigenous television service NITV has been carried as a second channel on Imparja’s satellite platform.

Imparja has continued to provide its own independent news service and in December 2007 announced plans to expand its news and current affairs portfolio to include more coverage from across its coverage area – an area of 4.5 million square kilometres.

Source: Imparja, Australian TV Archive, CAAMA Report (1987)

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