Broadcaster Mihingarangi Forbes with her son Taika. (Photo supplied)

She’s been on our screens for what seems like forever, starting off at Te Karere in the 90s, then moving across all our major Māori and mainstream broadcasters. And Mihingarangi Forbes is far from winding down her career, having just accepted the co-hosting slot on RNZ’s Saturday Morning programme. That’s on top of a few other things including her current affairs show Mata.

Here’s Mihingarangi talking to Dale Husband about why she’s still so fired up about telling Māori stories.

 

My first question to you, Mihi, is this: Are you more famous as a broadcaster or for your dance moves at the Duke of Wellington?

Duke of Wellington. Those were the days, eh? I loved those days. I didn’t go that often, but when I first shifted to Auckland, Moko Tini used to take me out there and we would have a good time. But probably not so famous for that, because back then, there was no social media, thank goodness. Otherwise, we’d all be famous for the wrong things, Dale.

I love the fact that you only answer your texts once a day. I think that’s very cool. That’s the way to operate, sis. Thanks very much for joining us on E-Tangata. A lot of your mahi is documented pretty well on Wikipedia. So I’d like you to talk about all the things that aren’t on Wikipedia. Tell us about your whānau to start off with.

My mum Marcia would say she’s from Feilding, because that’s where she spent the majority of her life up until about four years ago, when she shifted to Whanganui to her forever house. She was a teacher and a counsellor for most of her life, and a woman who believed in principle and standing up and stepping in and leaning into where she could give support.

Mihingarangi’s mum Marcia. (Photo supplied)

Her whakapapa is very early on: the Lovell-Smith family from Canterbury. My great-great-grandfather married Kate Sheppard. So our family were socialists and Christians and they were very involved in the Christian women’s temperance movement, which, as you know, was behind women getting the vote in 1893.

So the social conscience DNA is strong in my mum, and all our life we were carted off to protest about the Springbok Tour, land rights, and anything that was wrong with society.

Our house was one of those whare that had all the placards in the garage, and they’d paint over the top of them and spray them with something else every now and then. That was my upbringing in Feilding with my sister Jaqui, who’s a year older than me.

I remember one time we were fundraising for my sister to go to Nepal. She was going to pick up rubbish on Mount Everest. She was right into saving the planet back then. Now she’s the general manager of Para Kore, which is the Māori zero waste programme. They’ve been impacted by funding decisions by this present government. But for decades now, they’ve done amazing work in marae across the country, training and educating our iwi Māori when it comes to recycling, reusing and finding better ways of disposing of waste from tangihanga and hui Māori and all those kinds of things.

Then there’s our little brother, Stephen, who’s five years younger than me. He’d like to say he started off as a league player, playing for the Falcons. Now he’s over in Australia, working in the ports. He drives those big cranes that pick up all the shipping containers.

And my dad, not to forget my dear dad, John. He is our Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Pāoa link. When we were little, Dad was a bushman. His dad was a bushman, too. They were all part of the forestry boom of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. When that came to an end, Dad went to Australia to work over there. He came back a couple of times, but I think the grass was greener over there, and the work was too good — and by then Mum and Dad had separated.

So our relationship with our dad has been trotting off to Australia for Christmas holidays and hanging out at Coogee Beach. Dad’s got a brother Uncle Kere in Australia and a sister he lives with now — Aunty Audrey, who’s 83. There are five others back here in Aotearoa.

Coogee Beach is beautiful. Is he still there?

No, he’s in Guyra now. Guyra is a couple of hours inland from Coffs Harbour, more or less midway between Brisbane and Sydney. He and Aunty Audrey have this really lovely relationship where they just look after each other. Her husband passed away a number of years ago, and Dad’s on his own, so they’re just like brother and sister hanging out with all their animals.

A lot of my family are over there as well. Like your old man in the ‘70s, but we were escaping Muldoonism.

I guess that was the thing for some of our whānau, who had those big industry jobs that came to an end. It would’ve been a bit of a dire situation when you had large families to feed. Some people just had to go overseas, and, as you’d know, the wages in Australia were great for our people in the ‘70s, and New Zealanders had a reputation as the best workers in the world.

Mihingarangi, her sister Jacqui and mum Marcia. (Photo supplied)

You’ve always had an interest in journalism, with mock broadcasts as a kid, but I’m wondering about reo Māori. Did you attend Ataarangi?

Yeah. I went to Te Ataarangi in 1993, in Waikato. That was when it was booming and at its full strength. Our kaiako were the most extraordinary teachers, and classes were so full they were bursting out the edges. Te Ataarangi had a huge impact on me, though it wasn’t like I didn’t know anything beforehand, because I had some incredible teachers in high school. They’d come straight from teachers’ college, kind of fist-pumping and like, you know: “We’re gonna all learn te reo, and you guys are gonna come on the journey. Get up off your butts.”

So we’d had that through high school, and it wasn’t like we didn’t know who we were as Māori. What Te Ataarangi did was reinforce the stories, the ideas, the thoughts that I’d had in my childhood, and it allowed me to be more fully Māori. People who are my age might understand that a bit more, because during the ‘70s and the ‘80s, it wasn’t easy saying you’re Māori. Like in school, there was no karakia, there was no kura, and no kōhanga or anything like that. You didn’t say what you were or where you were from. So going to Te Ataarangi was the opportunity for me to say: “Ko Ngāti Maniapoto ahau, Ko Ngāti Pāoa tōku whakapapa.” And then onwards and upwards from there.

Tēnā koe. You’ve copped some criticism that you’re too “Māori come lately” or too white to be a Māori broadcaster. What would you say to that?

When I was at Native Affairs, a respected Māori academic questioned whether I was the right face to present a Māori current affairs show, which was an interesting kōrero, because I absolutely appreciate my white privilege in our world.

I’ve been successful in broadcasting because I am fair, and while people who are non-Māori have been wary of me, and some women have said that I’m scary and I’m hard to talk to, I have been acceptable to mainstream broadcasting because I look like I do. I definitely know that being fair-skinned and Māori is an absolute privilege, but I get that other people don’t understand that — such as the person who wrote that opinion piece.

I never felt like I wasn’t Māori. So that sort of criticism was water off a duck’s back, because I was like: “No, I’m out there fighting. I’m out there holding people to account. I’m out there telling the stories that are hard to get to. And the people that I do the stories about, they are the vulnerable and they don’t have a voice or a platform. And so, if I can use my privilege to elevate and promote and fight on their behalf, then that’s all that matters.”

So what about your name, Mihingarangi? What’s the back story?

Mihingarangi is a tūpuna name from Ngāti Pāoa. We come from a man named Te Mahia, who came to a bit of a gruesome end up the road from Kaiaua at Taupō Bay. It was a revenge killing and they hung him from a karaka tree. To recognise that death, his sons adopted the name Te Uri Karaka. That’s our hapū, and our marae is in Kaiaua. Further down that whakapapa line comes a Mihingarangi who had many descendants. If you come from Te Uri Karaka, every second person is called Mihingarangi.

You’ve been such a force really in broadcasting, in both the Māori sector and mainstream. Tainui radio, Campbell Live, 20-20, Te Karere, Native Affairs. Your pro-Māori, pro-wāhine stance I’m guessing has had detractors. Have you been unnerved by any social media feedback or vitriol?

I was just having a convo with a friend, Joanna Paul, and we were talking about the new generation of Māori reporters and how they’re just, “Get out of my way!” kind of thing. Which is so invigorating, because it wouldn’t have been easy in the ‘80s, when Joanna started, and it certainly wasn’t easy in the ‘90s. It started to get a little bit easier in the 2000s, though there were still inequities in this last decade as well.

It’s been tough at times, and you’ve had to bite your lip and just get on with it, because if you blow up, you could get kicked out and ruin your career. Whereas, if you keep chipping away, keep doing these stories, keep bringing people with us on the journey, there’s the prospect of a better future. Thank goodness social media wasn’t around in the ‘90s, because I probably would have cancelled myself right out.

But, yeah, I just don’t worry any more. I think you get long in the tooth, and you don’t care. And when I look back at what Māori broadcasters have done in the industry, I couldn’t be prouder. I know that we’re on the right path to incrementally change the view of mainstream New Zealand, of all New Zealanders, so that we can be in a better place, and we can enjoy and celebrate our past and our history.

It’s appropriate that we acknowledge those who’ve been the flag bearers for Māori media. Give us the names of a few people who you really admired, or who mentored you, or some that we can’t talk of Māori broadcasting without mentioning.

I have to give my first hat tip to Moari Stafford, who took a very big punt on me. I think his mother told him to, because I was off to Waiariki journalism school after my reo course. And I think she said to him: “Oh, never mind that. Just take her on as one of your cadetships.” He did, and that first six months was pretty rough for him because I was like a possum in the headlights, you know? I’d come from Feilding to Auckland. But he was so supportive of me, and I guess, because I was from Maniapoto and he’s from Rereahu and Maniapoto, he knew that he had to put his korowai over me and look after me, because that TVNZ newsroom was pretty fierce back then.

Also, Tini Molyneux. I take my hat off to her because of the longevity that she’s had in this industry. She worked in mainstream, and I can’t even imagine what that was like for her, but she is a real fighter. One thing I love about Tini is that she’s Tūhoe. She never changes her stripes. Also, she’s in there for the long game, and you can see that. She’s good at making relationships work, whichever newsroom she’s in.

I learned a lot from her in terms of just having to pull your socks up and get on with it. There are many times in newsrooms where things go wrong. You want to have a big tangi, and someone like her would be like: “Hei aha te tangi, let’s get on with it.” She’s been somebody that kept me going and told me off. Everyone will tell you that she’s that aunty who gives you a crack, and won’t be sad about it, who forces you to get up and get going.

So many people! I hate naming people because there’s just dozens of people that I really admire and respect, people who will send you a text to say, “Kia kaha,” if you’ve said something that people are upset about. Our industry is full of people who will awhi you and get you back up on your feet when you’ve had a bit of a fall.

I love that about our people — that we can be fierce and competitive like our tūpuna were back in the 1700s, but we can just be so beautiful as well. We can awhi each other and pick each other up and come together, like we’re doing now with the Kotahitanga movement.

And, of course, Annabelle Lee-Mather, who’s been my partner in crime for the last however many years. I’ve really enjoyed working with wāhine Māori in current affairs and particularly in long-form investigations. It’s so nice to have someone riding shotgun on your shoulder.

And I think Māori broadcasting is stronger when we work together. Through the ‘90s we were encouraged to work in silos and work outside of our cultural comfort zones. I’m really pleased that we’ve given that up, and we’re now doing journalism together and training together. It’s awesome!

Mihingarangi with her long-time colleague, producer and journalist Annabelle Lee-Mather. (Photo supplied)

By necessity, Māori reporting is often political reporting. Was there anyone in particular who influenced you, in the way you look at politics or question politicians?

Most of my learning happened at the kōhanga that I was allowed to be in when it was Te Karere. When I was at Aotearoa Television Network, we became the news, and I learned a lot about politics at that moment!

When I went to One News and worked in Wellington, Linda Clark was the political editor in the TVNZ newsroom, and I was the Māori reporter. I really wanted to do politics, but I knew that I was never going to get picked for that job. I was lucky to have the job as a Māori reporter. And so, what I’d do most days is ask myself: “What’s the political story of the day? And how do I tell that story with a Māori lens?” Then I’d offer that to the editor as a new perspective, a different viewpoint.

But where I really learned about interviewing politicians was in Native Affairs. I got dropped into it because Julian Wilcox suddenly moved into management, and there was no thinking about it. One day I was producing Te Kaea and the next day I was sitting in the hot seat with a politician in front of me, and I was like: “Shit! Oh, well, here we go. It’s either gonna work or it’s not.” If you’ve ever had Annabelle Lee-Mather in your ear, you’ll know what it is to have a safe pair of hands on the steering wheel. She’s a very good live producer with decades of political knowledge.

And now we see Maiki Sherman weaving her beautiful reo as TVNZ’s political editor. That says something, doesn’t it?

Absolutely. It’s incredible. We must be 15 years apart in age, and even that gap means that she’s entirely different in the way that her brain’s wired, because she’s come through kura kaupapa and whare kura, and you and I didn’t have the privilege of having that kind of learning and teaching.

So she’s coming at it with a different view, which I really appreciate, and I love listening to her analysis. That’s why I’m so positive about the future of Māori broadcasting and about Māori inside broadcasting, whether it’s Māori or mainstream, because we’re ready and we’re educated and we’re clever and we do great analysis.

Interviewing Stacey Morrison. (Photo supplied)

But we’re still lacking some dedicated Māori funding for journalism, aren’t we? A lot of us sort of arrived in the space because of an interest and some abilities, but as far as trained journalism, we’re a bit thin on the ground still, aren’t we?

Yeah, but I think that we train better when we train in groups, and when we train on the job. It’s just like other professions. If you want to be a builder, then get building as an apprentice, and then do your tohu through your work. And I think that’s the same with journalism, camera work, soundies.

But you’re right around the funding. It is problematic that the reo Māori revitalisation money is funding everything at the moment. Wouldn’t it be a dream that one day we have separate funding for Māori journalism and Māori drama and Māori everything else, and we didn’t have to pin everything to Māori revitalisation?

That would be great. Hey, congratulations that you’ve come full circle. You’re back on Saturday mornings, one of the flagship RNZ programmes, coming back to our national broadcaster but on your own terms.

Yeah, exactly. I’m doing a half Mata, half Saturday Morning. I feel like RNZ has really had a shift and it’s a way safer place for me to go back into. When I say safer, I don’t mean physically, but spiritually. What I mean is that other people have done the learning now. And so when you’re talking about using some kupu, or talking about an ideal like kotahitanga — the story that’s happening at the moment — you’re not having to educate people. They’ve done their own work in the last nearly 10 years since I’ve been there.

And that’s amazing. You’ve got Pākehā who are speaking Māori there now. And so, you know, good on you, Guyon and everyone else who’s on their journey. It really does make a difference for people like us when we go back into those spaces.

The industry’s a little bit fragile at the moment, so I thought it would be a good idea for me to try my hand somewhere else. I’ve never done long-form radio broadcasting, so I’m excited about giving that a go. And also, I’m just making some space in our business so other people can come in and get some work when there are so many people who are unemployed at the moment.

Annabelle and I are often thinking like that, thinking about people who are struggling to get work. Can we find some space for them? Can they do some work with us? So it’s just sharing the resource, really, sharing the jobs around until the industry’s strong again.

Everything’s moving so quickly, all the pieces, whether you’re talking about Meta and Twitter and Facebook and all that kind of stuff, the advertising dollar has fallen right away. No one knows what the formula is right now to turn linear dollars into online dollars. That’s a big problem, because that’s where all the funding has fallen away. And it’s not that anyone’s taken it. It’s just that we haven’t been able to rebalance it, because at the moment, it’s those big foreign digital giants like Meta that are able to mine news that’s been paid for by governments through channels like NZ On Air. They are benefiting from our tax dollars and the news that we’re making.

Until we work out what the formula is to balance it off, we’re going to be in a transition period, and that’s where we are now.

There was a survey that came out recently about how New Zealanders feel about journalism and news, and predominantly New Zealanders think news is important. I think the more important question is the kind of news that New Zealanders want, because I would imagine that when it comes to the stuff that we’re doing, which is long-form journalism about policy, predominantly the feedback is good, and people say they want more of that. They want to learn more about what they don’t know.

“I want to be part of something incredible that really makes a shift for us in broadcasting in terms of rangatiratanga and motuhake,” says Mihingarangi Forbes, pictured on the job with colleagues. (Photo supplied)

You’ve expressed an interest in writing and producing drama. How far away is that? Is that sort of on the back burner while you sink your teeth into this other mahi?

What I’ve learned is that you can’t do all the jobs, and there’s things that I’m good at and things that I’m less good at. With the drama thing, Annabelle and I have been talking about it, and really what you have to do in drama is to find a bit of start-up money. And so we’re looking to pull that together, and then we will pull together a writing table and an ideas table. There are some incredible story developers out there, and we’ll probably look to Christmas or New Year to bring some ideas in and see if we’ve got a script to develop.

I’ve always had respect for our older broadcasters, and it’s a mahi where the older you get, the more political cycles you’ve seen, the more you can relate back to. Do you think your best years as a broadcaster are still ahead of you?

For sure. I don’t really want to do anything else, and I’m just excited to keep rolling with whatever comes up. I really want for us to be the phoenix rising from the ashes, and I want us to have some kind of 24/7 news and current affairs and information ecosystem that is ours.

We have to think long-term, and though I might not be around in 40 years’ time, I’m certainly gonna be around in the next 15 to 20 years. I’ve got heaps of gas in the tank, and I want to be part of something incredible that really makes a shift for us in broadcasting in terms of rangatiratanga and motuhake. We need to be in charge of our own platforms. And that’s my goal. I want to work with whoever wants to work with me to achieve it.

You’re awesome! Thanks to all the mahi you’ve been doing and the mahi still to come on this new vehicle.

Yeah, that’s us. Jump on it. It’s gonna be a big rocket ship!

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

E-Tangata, 2024

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