The Federal Government has asked public broadcaster SBS to work with the National Indigenous Television service (NITV) to launch a new free-to-air Indigenous channel.

The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, said the government wants the resources allocated to Indigenous broadcasting deliver the best outcomes for Indigenous people.

“The government’s aim is to provide a national platform for free-to-air delivery of predominantly Australian Indigenous content without the creation of a third national broadcaster,” he said in a statement.

NITV has long held wider broadcast ambitions, including shifting to free-to-air, although a government review last year criticised NITV's relationships with indigenous media groups and governance standards. (The broadcaster addressed those criticisms here.)

The format and structure of the new television service is still to be decided.

A separate review, led by Neville Stevens AO, earlier this year recommended a new structure, which would provide more original Indigenous content on free-to-air television.

NITV, which is largely seen through Foxtel and Austar, was established by the previous Coalition government and began broadcasting in July 2007. It receives annual government funding of just over $15 million.

NITV chairman Mr Ken Reys said talks with SBS were at a preliminary stage.

“We see this as a potential opportunity to achieve a long awaited ambition of securing national free-to-air transmission for Indigenous television,” Reys said in a statement. “There are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and millions of other Australians who currently don’t have access to NITV.”

Reys also warned that the NITV board would need to be satisfied that the channel would need to be dedicated to Indigenous programming, under Indigenous editorial control, and have secure funding.

"We would also like to ensure the continued broadcasting of the only national daily television news produced and presented from an Indigenous perspective. Indigenous editorial control is particularly important to retaining the trust of Indigenous Australians and to the ability of the channel to contribute to the government’s 'closing the gap' policy objectives. And we would want the new carrier always to acknowledge the special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s national story."

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