Mike Rehu

A review of the Māori media, the “Māori Media Sector Shift”, launched by the Minister of Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, and led by Te Puni Kokiri, brings an opportunity to analyse the achievements and blunders over the last 30 or so years — and to come up with practical plans to see that the Māori voices in the media become much stronger, more comprehensible, more influential, and more accessible.

We’ve asked a number of Māori broadcasters, journalists, and commentators for their views, on what’s working and what’s not.

Media consultant and broadcaster Mike Rehu joins the discussion.


I’m Kāi Tahu — my marae is Arowhenua near Temuka — but I didn’t grow up with Māori connections. My dad was sent to an orphanage when he was two, and that broke the chain in a way.

I started in radio in the early 1980s. I’d always felt acting was my calling at Christchurch Boys’ High School, but after some time as an observer/intern, I realised that working 16 hours a day — rehearsing in the day, performing at night — for $200 a week, wasn’t going to pay the bills.

After 16 months as a cadet, I got selected for the radio announcing course at Radio NZ at the age of 19. By 21, I’d joined private radio and was doing breakfast shows in metro markets. Then, after tiring of 3am starts, I worked on sports and talk programming.

I got into TV a few years later, as a presenter of shows like Playschool and Video Dispatch. I was lucky enough to get an opportunity as a director and producer with What Now? and Son of a Gunn, then I was off to Singapore, where I spent 20 years at Disney’s ESPN and Newscorp’s Fox International Channels.

One of the turning points in my career was when I completed a Bachelor of Broadcasting by correspondence from the NZ Broadcasting School. It allowed me to turn from a competent “hands-on guy” to somebody who could be more high-level and strategic.

In 2015, I returned to Aotearoa and had an enjoyable three years at Māori TV as head of content. The role was wide-ranging. I oversaw news and current affairs, programming, production, promos, sub-titling and digital departments.

We managed to ramp up the drama and comedy quotient, while continuing to make some quality factual programmes. At Māori TV, we made our content for a pitiful amount — even in undeveloped Asia, they would have turned their noses up at it.

The Māori content landscape has changed massively from when I left in 1995. The changes have built the confidence of our people and changed perceptions of Māori among other Kiwis.

Seeing our faces on screens and hearing our language across the motu is the best part about funded-content, in my opinion. We may have fewer fluent speakers right now, but you can feel the swell of interest. We need to ensure that becomes an irrepressible wave!

I think most people agree that Māori broadcasting needs a makeover to reflect the evolution of consumption and audience behaviour. We understand that some initiatives haven’t worked as well as they did in the past, or others have been tried and aren’t proving to be effective in terms of their engagement or their ability to help people in their language journey.

Recently, there have been wānanga where exciting new ideas for change have been talked about, but it would seem as though too many “haves” have entrenched positions and close contacts that have allowed them to dig their heels in and resist the change.

There will never be enough pūtea to fund everything, so prioritising is vital. There WILL be tough calls, but we need to make them and move on.

My perspective comes from someone who cares deeply about the future of te reo and Māori success, but who doesn’t have a long history of legacy or relationships that skew me one way or another.

Here are some issues I believe need to be immediately addressed.

A united language plan

In the last four years, I’ve come across a number of different language plans used across the Crown agencies, from Te Puni Kokiri to the Ministry of Education. They have been sourced from a mix of philosophies and doctrines.

A draft of Maihi Karauna, the Crown’s Māori Language Revitalisation Strategy 2018–2023, has been published and public consultation has closed. Once it’s locked in, and the goals and potential outcomes are clear, an overarching plan needs all agencies to understand their role in the team and the special way they move the waka in the right direction. Ideally, these plans should work in concert with Maihi Māori, Te Mātāwai as well.

All decisions made by agencies need to flow down from the top with this strategy, and all agencies from Te Puni Kokiri through to the MOE need to be informed by the umbrella plan. Everyone needs to stick to the plan and their specific roles.

Funding that closely reflects age demographics, platforms, and te reo levels

As we await the latest numbers from Te Kupenga research, we must consider what the best spread of funding is for the language levels illustrated in the figures.

At present, the funding heavily favours content that contains 70 to 100 percent te reo content. I do understand that fluent speakers require a larger percentage of the funding — they won’t get fluent te reo Māori content anywhere else in the universe — but perhaps we need to spend more on getting language learners from first steps through to the middle stages of their path.

When I was at MTS, one of the shows I was most proud of was Opaki. After doing an inventory, I realised that there was a lot of material for those at the beginners and the fluent ends, but nothing bridging the two. There should be a mix, but the Māori content funding should be about ticking all boxes of entertainment and enlightenment.

We have also not moved quickly enough to fund content on platforms that tamariki and rangatahi use. Māori are younger than the general population and we can lead the tide to new platforms.

Create two Māori radio networks

For me, radio is about personalities. To be able to have the best half-dozen Māori personalities as stars on an Aotearoa FM network that promotes te reo will help build the language quickly and efficiently. Imagine having bilingual stars like Stacey Morrison and Matai Rangi Smith evangelising, entertaining, and enlightening on air.

Material from this station should promote artists who produce contemporary, te reo content that’s woven into other music material and have a healthy language level (ideally 30-50 percent) in the talk breaks. This will help our language learners build their bridge from the beginner side of the river to a level of fluency.

Also, we should create a fully fluent AM network that is talk-based, and fund a breakout window for iwi and hapū. As a Kāi Tahu, I understand dialect is important but the biggest battle at the moment from my perspective is to get people speaking and, most importantly, learners listening.

Rationalising old media platforms doesn’t mean less diversity

One of the potential dangers flagged by some of the community is that a one-stop shop of Māori news will endanger a diversity of voices.

But even with multiple linear broadcast news services available now, there is not a huge difference in views, content choice, and treatment. Take a look at Te Karere and Te Kaea sometime — there’s no obvious difference. They get the same press releases, and their crew and reporters go to the same pressers and hui. The issues of the day that affect Māori are gazed at through a similar lens.

Rationalising old media doesn’t mean there will be a lack of diversity. In fact, the fragmentation in funding to new players in the multi-platform market should mean there will be more chances for smaller, more independent voices to emerge. The issue then becomes discoverability, so having curation hubs that are well-marketed and have strong followings become important.

Lobby for a strong say in decisions for Rautaki Māori funding from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage/NZ On Air

Even though funding for Māori broadcasting sits outside NZ On Air, we need to rally together to ensure that the Rautaki Māori funding of NZ On Air is used positively to challenge prejudice held against Māori by mass audiences, create positive Māori protagonists, and not use negative themes (usually involving crime) to appeal to general audiences.

A review is urgently needed. Some people will have the way they work changed. That is a media-wide phenomenon and we need to stay relevant. Kudos to Nanaia for calling this initiative.


Mike Rehu is a broadcaster and media consultant based in Tāmaki Makaurau. He has worked as a presenter, and directed, produced and, for the last decade, been a media executive based in Asia and Aotearoa. At present he commentates rugby for Sky TV, is contributing to an operational roadmap for a national broadcaster, runs Tahu Films and is chairman of a sports-tech startup called Spalk.


© E-Tangata, 2018

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