Introduction by Croakey: The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) today urged governments to ensure GPs are “front and centre when disasters strike”, warning that regulatory barriers are impeding emergency responses and recovery.
RACGP President Dr Karen Price said during times of disaster, GPs were not always properly consulted, because general practice care is not integrated into emergency responses, and because of a lack of communications and coordination between local services and state and Federal Government bodies.
“I’m hearing reports that during the first week of the floods, local health professionals, including GPs and nurses, came together at evacuation centres amidst utter chaos to support large numbers of displaced people. It was ad hoc with very limited technological support,” she said in a statement.
With climate change set to increase communities’ experiences of disasters, Price said GPs must be formally recognised as frontline health providers in any natural disaster arrangements.
Meanwhile, as highlighted by The Conversation article below about The Koori Mail, better support is also needed for another sector providing frontline emergency responses – First Nations media.
[And, while we’re on the subject of First Nations media, the Croakey team congratulates the transformative media project, IndigenousX, for celebrating an auspicious 10th birthday this week. Check out #IndigenousX10 on Twitter.]
Daniel Featherstone, Archie Thomas and Lyndon Ormond Parker write:
First Nations media outlets provide a critical role in the day-to-day lives of Indigenous people. In times of crisis, the service they provide is even more important.
Yet they get little recognition or support for the work they do, and do not receive the funding they need.
The flooding in NSW and Queensland has once again shown what these outlets provide. This is why the government and the general public need to do more to support them.
First Nations organisations are vital for communities
There are more than 60 First Nations community-controlled organisations in over 235 towns, cities and remote communities across Australia, providing tailored, local news.
In some of these places, where internet connection is poor or non-existent, these outlets are the only reliable source of information.
A 2017 study by First Nations Media found that:
Indigenous Broadcasting Services provide much more than radio – they are community assets that contribute to strengthening culture, community development and the local economy.”
The Koori Mail’s response to the NSW floods
The Koori Mail is Australia’s premier and only First Nations-controlled newspaper, started in 1991 by five Bundjalung groups and 100 percent self-funded. Issued fortnightly, it shares news and events from across the country told from the perspective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.
In the wake of the disaster, the newspaper became the central hub for flood relief in Lismore. This is despite the fact the Koori Mail building – located by the Wilson River levee bank – was itself flooded.
Volunteers coordinated activities from the footpath outside their ruined office. They arranged helicopter and boat supply drop-offs, cooked meals, clean-up crews and tradespeople, emergency housing, safety and emergency advice, medical attention, mental health support and more.
The Koori Mail’s GoFundMe campaign has now raised over $640,000 to fund these efforts. The newspaper has just started fundraising for its own much-needed rebuild.
The Koori Mail’s general manager Naomi Moran has said:
Even though Koori Mail has suffered a great loss here, our key responsibility is to make sure that our people are OK first, not just our staff, not just our board members, but our community. So we’re really trying to take the lead and be a hub of information for our mob, especially online.”
The Koori Mail’s ability to step into the breach and coordinate this effort highlights the unique and invaluable role played by First Nations media organisations in times of crisis.
First Nations media leading the way in crisis responses
A report released in January, co-authored with First Nations Media Australia and the Judith Nielsen Institute, investigated the role of First Nations media outlets throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
It showed First Nations media organisations provide a reliable, trusted source of information, often in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, to combat misinformation and help address mental health and welfare issues, for audiences who often mistrust or feel excluded by mainstream media services.
The report provided case studies of three First Nations media organisations:
- PAW Media in central Australia delivered culturally appropriate and locally relevant health advice to people and addressed misinformation in Warlpiri language
- 3KND in Melbourne helped keep the Aboriginal community across Melbourne connected, informed and supported with mental health advice during extended lockdown periods
- Wilcannia River Radio in western NSW provided support for online learning and updated heath messages during the major COVID outbreak in August 2021. In the past, it also distributed fresh water to households when town water supplies dried up.
The report states how First Nations media organisations have played a critical role in keeping communities strong, resilient and connected.
These organisations are often going above and beyond broadcasting and communicating through media channels by being physically on the street or communicating with people over the phone or at community events.
How can First Nations media be better supported and more accessible?
First Nations Media Australia notes that 53 percent of First Nations people cannot access First Nations radio services, including in Adelaide, Canberra, regional Victoria and Tasmania.
This is a missed opportunity to provide these communities with relevant news and information, cultural and community connections, language revitalisation efforts, and job and skill development in media and journalism.
For the first time in decades, however, there are signs that governments are recognising the crucial role of First Nations media. Digital inclusion has been included as a specific target in the 2020 Closing the Gap Agreement, with governments committing to work with First Nations media to communicate with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences.
However, significantly greater government investment is needed to provide the jobs, skills and technical upgrades needed to build the First Nations media sector’s capacity and impact.
First Nations community-controlled media organisations provide much more than information. They provide emergency and community services – and are trusted to do so as place-based, culturally safe services and storytellers.
• Dr Daniel Featherstone is a Senior Research Fellow at RMIT University leading the four-year ‘Mapping the Digital Gap’ research project on digital inclusion in remote First Nations communities. Daniel was previously General Manager of national peak body First Nations Media Australia, previously Indigenous Remote Communications Association, from 2012-20.
• Archie Thomas is Research Fellow at the Indigenous Land and Justice Research Group at UTS, where they are investigating the potential of Aboriginal-controlled media to support self-determination and wellbeing.
• Dr Lyndon Ormond-Parker is an Aboriginal man of Alyawarr decent from the Barkley tablelands of the Northern Territory.
See Croakey’s archive of articles on media-related issues and health.
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