The first of many introductory journalism courses run by the New Zealand Journalists’ Training Board and the Department of Māori Affairs. This one was held in Wellington in August 1980. Several from this course, including Lois Turei, Suzanne Tichborne and Tapu Misa, are still working in the media.

There are hopeful signs that there’ll soon be substantial reforms to, and funding for, the Māori media.

Among those signs is the Māori media panel that’s been set up to advise the Minister for Māori Development, Willie Jackson, on what those changes should be.

Another is the Minister of Broadcasting, Kris Fa’afoi, taking a serious look at the need for more support for public interest journalism in New Zealand — and indicating that Māori and Pasifika journalism is definitely included. What’s more, he’s announced that there’s $55 million available, nationally, over the next three years for that project.

It’s about time — well, actually, it’s decades late.

There have been generations of journalists lamenting the damage done to our society by the dominance of a media system that’s been so white and so ill-informed about the non-white worlds within Aotearoa.

But, so far, nothing much has changed, apart from pioneer Māori journalists like Derek Fox and Whai Ngata charging ahead anyway in the 1980s.

From time to time, they and others also put the case for reform. Mostly to no or little avail.

One of those voices came from a Pākehā journalist, Gary Wilson, a co-founder and co-editor of E-Tangata.

Gary had taught English at St Stephen’s in the 1960s and then focused on recruiting and training Māori and Pacific journalists. With Derek Fox and Piripi Whaanga, he later founded and helped run Mana Māori Media.

In 2005, he wrote a paper for the Journalists Training Organisation, outlining the scene then, as he saw it.

We think it’s worth dusting off and presenting here, especially given the issues now being considered by policymakers, and the dearth of media history available.

Gary’s paper is a snapshot of where we were 16 years ago, and, as you can see from this excerpt, while some of the players have changed, the big picture has remained largely unchanged and the issues are still unresolved.



I’ve been asked to provide a paper on how the media is handling Māori and Pacific Island news, and how that coverage might be improved.

In the circumstances, this can be no more than a sketch of that territory because there’s been too little research to gauge exactly what is being done and where it may be going wrong.

I’ve been in a position, however, to spot some reasons for the media’s mishandling of Māori and PI stories — and I’ve also had a chance to try dealing with a few of those difficulties.

In the 1980s, I ran a number of projects (on behalf of the Journalists Training Board) to attract more Māori and PI recruits into journalism, and to encourage mainstream journalists to get a better grasp of Māori issues.

Then, from 1990 to 2004, I helped run the Mana Māori Media news service which supplied programmes to National Radio and the iwi network, as well as publishing Mana, a bi-monthly Māori magazine.

Since then, I’ve pitched in with the Mana Trust, an independent body which is working on ways to strengthen the Māori and PI voices in the New Zealand media.

I’m drawing on that background to write this paper. But I see these observations as just a preliminary step towards the debate and the action that is needed if the media is to do better than it has managed so far.

That debate and the follow-up, however, require a much more substantial platform of information than I’m able to supply here.

What’s missing is a clear picture of the capacity of the media for reflecting Māori and PI interests.

For instance, how many Māori and PI journalists are there in New Zealand? How experienced are they? What support are they given? What background and education do they and their Pākehā colleagues have? What training? And what is the understanding of Māori and PI issues among those heading our major media organisations?

Those details, and others just as relevant, aren’t available — which suggests that our top priority should be some research so that there’s a basis for well-informed discussion, planning and action.

Students from the Waiariki-Tu Tangata booster course in 1983. Back row (left to right): Vern Rice, Anthony Ellison, Ngahuia Wilson, May Parakoti-Lewis, Mata Tunui, Hiria Rakete, Rawiri Wright. Second row (left to right): Ara Taumata, Therese Stafford, Lito Vilisoni, Rahena Broughton. Sitting (left to right): Gary Wilson, Amo Houkamou, Patti Williams (Waiariki tutor), Piripi Whaanga (Tu Tangata editor). (Photo: Tu Tangata, December, 1986.)

Why we need a plan

A plan to deal with the problems is justified for two reasons. First, it’s a matter of good journalism. But there’s an extra social responsibility, because there are unhealthy consequences for our society if the mainstream media doesn’t become much more accomplished at looking beyond Pākehā interests.

If it continues to be so steadfastly Pākehā, there’s not much chance of it guiding New Zealanders along the bicultural or multicultural path it commends from time to time.

And, if the Māori and PI media organisations carry on in such a disorganised fashion, their contribution will be limited too.

We all lose from those failures. Māori and PI communities don’t get the recognition or support they deserve. Smaller and newer minorities get even less. And, along with Pākehā, they’re denied their right to appreciate and embrace New Zealand’s Polynesian heritage.

Instead, they’re left on the fringes, maybe managing no more than a few lines from the Kamate haka or from Pokarekare Ana, and too ill at ease to take much part in any occasion where the tikanga and language is Māori or PI.

This is a more significant loss than Pākehā are inclined to acknowledge, even though they may have known many moments (overseas especially) when, as Kiwis, they’ve treasured and exulted in their Polynesian “identity”, because that’s the special element which makes them distinctive as New Zealanders.

Those Polynesian links may, as a rule, be flimsy and half-hearted in everyday life. But they count.

Just think for a moment of the Athens Olympics and the celebratory (largely Pākehā) haka back at the New Zealand village for Sarah Ulmer . . . and her tears.

It was more than just Kiwi pride. It was a display of what’s special about our particular collection of people in the South Pacific.

That Polynesian element is at the core of who we feel we are. And so it’s particularly disappointing that the media has had so much trouble coming to terms with that and has yet to find a comfortable, confident way of reflecting our Māori and Pacific worlds.

It’s a concern, too, because there’s no chance of our society welcoming and linking with other minorities, such as the Chinese or Somalis or Serbs, unless we’re already at ease with Polynesia. Until then, you can forget multiculturalism.

So, let’s have a look at the media situation and then at what might be done.

Just a few words of explanation first. I see the initial problem in the media as a failing to reflect Māori lives and interests as fairly and generously as they should be. The failing to reflect the news and views of Sāmoan, Tongan and Cook Island New Zealanders and other Polynesian Kiwis from the Pacific is a parallel problem.

Through the years, it’s had less attention for several reasons. One is that PI leaders have been slow to recognise the part the media plays in influencing PI developments. So they haven’t focused on it as much as they might have.

Also, when they have been het up about this, or about other PI issues, they’ve been inclined to keep quiet, out of deference to the tangata whenua. They’ve seen Māori priorities as deserving precedence, and they’ve been prepared to take second place and bide their time.

In this struggle for a fair go in the media, they’ve been playing a subdued, secondary role. And, in this analysis, the focus more often than not is on the Māori situation. But the PI media experience has frequently been echoing what Māori have been through — and the damage has often been similar.

Gary (right) at the 1984 introductory course held at PIERC (Pacific Islanders’ Educational Resource Centre) in Freemans Bay, Auckland.

A natural ignorance  

My work with Mana used to prompt occasional invitations to have a break from riding herd on radio programmes and magazine stories and to talk with other groups.

One such break, from time to time, was running a session for journalism students at the Auckland Technical Institute, on covering Māori news.

Normally, the students would all be Pākehā because that has been the pattern in our training courses ever since they became well-established more than 30 years ago. And that meant, most likely, they didn’t know much about Māori journalism. Or about Māori anything.

I saw no sense, though, in encouraging the trainees to feel guilty about that, because a limited grasp of things Māori generally goes with the territory when you’re a Pākehā growing up in New Zealand.

You don’t choose your parents and their whakapapa, or your neighbourhood, language, church, or school. Circumstances also are going to have a bit to say about your mates, school subjects, sport and other pastimes.

As a result, the chances are that any classroom of journalism students (like any others studying law or business or teaching or whatever) won’t be familiar with the Māori side of New Zealand. That’s just how it is.

So, in those sessions with the trainees, my approach was to encourage them to take stock of their 18 or 20 years and, in particular, of the Māori contact and experience they’d had.

I’d outline my own background for them too, which included arriving at my first newspaper job (with the Auckland Star in 1957) with no Māori credentials, or any concern about that, and no prospect of learning anything from a Māori journalist, because there were none. These were pre-Harry Dansey days.

It was useful, I thought, for the trainees to recognise how it had been for that generation — and how it had pretty much continued to be for each new crop of recruits.

Then, when they had chewed over that and looked back on their own backgrounds, I’d have them mull over something else.

It was the question of how acceptable it is for journalists to be reflecting and interpreting a society they only partly understand.

And, in case some of them preferred not to become such a journalist, we would talk about what they might do to become more familiar with the Māori world. It wasn’t much of a grounding, but it was a start.

Many Māori and Pacific journalists helped out with the introductory courses. Pictured: Tapu Misa (left, then working for the NZ Herald) and Tino Pereira (standing, then with RNZ) at the 1984 introductory course in Auckland for Pacific students which included Susana Lei’ataua (right, who went on to work in radio and television).


Through the years, journalism tutors have done much more to ensure that even those students who’ve led a closeted white life aren’t at sea with Māori issues.

For instance, they’ll now generally have a marae visit, and be well schooled for the occasion. They’ll also have to do several Māori stories. Perhaps worked at Māori pronunciation, too. So they’ve at least had an introduction to this territory.

And, while this has been going on, a host of Māori media organisations have been springing up.

First, after pioneering work in Wellington (at Te Upoko o Te Ika) and Ruatōria (at Radio Ngāti Porou), a national network of iwi radio stations began to blossom.

Then Mana Māori Media, a private company, began supplying National Radio (and, in due course, the iwi radio network) with Māori news and current affairs programmes, and also launched its magazine.

Other Māori publications followed, such as Tumai and Te Karaka, and now there’s also Spasifik with a mixture of Māori and Pacific coverage.

In television, after years of legal and political jousting, there has emerged not just a Māori channel but also a number of Māori video production companies serving mainstream television as well as the MTS, the Māori Television Service.

They include Cinco Cine (which does Kōrero Mai and Pūkana), Front of the Box (Eye To Eye), Hula Haka (Marae DIY), Kiwa Films (Mataku), Te Aratai (Tikitiki), He Taonga, Astraeus, and Māui.

For 20 years now, there’s also been a journalism training course in Rotorua (at the Waiariki Institute of Technology) which has concentrated on producing Māori journalists.

The mainstream media hasn’t been idle either. It has been recruiting more Māori, and presenting many more Māori programmes and stories.

Te Karere, Waka Huia and Marae are three television programmes now reaching veteran status, and they’ve been joined by several boisterous newcomers including Eye To Eye and Pūkana.

National Radio has broadcast Mana programmes for more than 15 years, as well as supplementing those Māori stories with the work of its own journalists including Henare Te Ua, Hemana Waaka, Libby Hakaraia, Chris Wikaira, Gideon Porter, Tere Harrison, Ana Tapiata and Paul Diamond.

Talkback ZB made provision for Tau Henare, and Radio Live has recruited Willie Jackson and John Tamihere as talkback hosts.

Television has provided a more noticeable Māori presence too, not just with Carol Hirschfeld and Mike McRoberts as presenter/reporters but with other Māori journalists such as Tini Molyneux, Miriama Kamo, Tania Page, Te Kauhoe Wano, Maramena Roderick, Jodi Ihaka and Mereana Hond.

Also it has become common for Pākehā broadcasters to give Māori pronunciations to Māori words (or at least try) and even, in a few cases, to greet or farewell the listeners or viewers in Māori.

Geoff Robinson (with his Kia ora tātou), Judy Bailey (Pō mārie) and John Campbell (Haere mai and Ka kite) are three of the more conscientious practitioners. And there are others.

Although our newspapers haven’t done as well as the broadcasters in finding and holding on to Māori journalists, there are non-Māori who can write with insight and authority on Māori issues. Tapu Misa, Chris Trotter, Ruth Berry, Audrey Young, Anthony Hubbard and Colin James all come to mind.

So, the landscape has been changing. There definitely has been progress.

A booster journalism course in 1984. Back row, from left: Susana Lei’ataua, Liane Clarke, Damiane Rikihana, Mahanga Maru, and Raiatea Tahaana-Reese. Next row: Foster Niumata, Nui Te Koha, Rangimarie Hepi, Jackie Clarke, and Johnathan Walker. Next row: Nemo Adam, Keneti Apa, Claudette Hauiti, Walton Woodford, and Sharon McCredie. Front: Michelle Baker, Meri Solomon, and Janey Wilson.

Doing enough?

There are reasons, though, why we shouldn’t be too impressed by that progress.

It’s not as if it has been so substantial that the mainstream media now has a workforce well qualified to be reflecting and explaining the Māori world to the New Zealand public.

Yet that’s the role that mainstream journalists are playing. Most New Zealanders don’t live the kind of lives where they’re able to gather any significant impressions first-hand about Māori. The mainstream media is their link, the sole link for some, with that world.

And so, when the media provides a negative picture of Māori (as research such as Jenny Rankine’s Kupu Taea report suggests it often does) and when it belittles Māori (as the research indicates is another unhealthy tendency), that is unduly persuasive and misleading, because so many of the public can’t put that image into a well-informed context.

Stories of Pākehā rapists and other ratbags, however unsettling, are readily seen in perspective because the Pākehā public know from their own experience (from their own families, neighbours, workmates and so on) that scummy whites are the exception and that the norm is for them to be wholesome, helpful and unthreatening.

They would know that’s exactly the same for Māori and PI communities, if they had the same sort of contact. But that’s what is missing.

If our kids emerged from school with a reasonable grasp of things Māori, and if the Māori media was much more influential, the mainstream journalists wouldn’t be playing such a pivotal role.

But they are. And, understandably, they’re not up to it. As a rule, Pākehā journalists aren’t familiar with the history, tikanga, reo, songs and legends or the tribal politics and realities of modern-day Māori life.

They don’t have the background or understanding to appreciate what Maori stories should be pursued. They don’t have the contacts. They’re unlikely to have the co-operation of Māori they should be interviewing and often they don’t have the confidence of those they do talk to.

Outside the newsroom, they’re not moving in the social circles which might have them on a wavelength with Māori. And, back in the office, they’re working in a climate where there may not be either the sympathy or the wisdom that guide journalists when they’re working on stories from familiar territory.

You can argue that news is news and that journalists routinely succeed in delivering acceptable stories on topics with which they’ve only just become acquainted, and that it’s just a matter of applying the same professional approach you use with any other assignment.

No doubt, if you work that way, you can get by with a lot of Māori stories.

But managing to get by at times reporting on Māori for a mainstream public isn’t the same as reporting for Māori. And that’s a task which has hardly begun.

The assumption seems to have been that the public’s interests are best served by the mainstream media presenting stories and programmes of interest and importance. Which, of course, is true. Except that it’s a mainstream or Establishment idea of what’s interesting and important.

And those views — or that worldview — coincide only partly with Māori ideas of what the priorities should be.

The perspective and values are different. Which means a different selection of stories and programmes. And different ways of delivering them.

The situation isn’t peculiar to New Zealand. It’s repeated wherever there are minority cultures overshadowed by a mainstream media dominant enough to present its worldview as if it’s the only one — or at least the only one that counts.

The confidence (as well as the blindness) of the mainstream media comes from it being so much in tune with the Establishment. Being a part of it, in fact.

Mainstream journalists may think they’re on the outside and, on behalf of the public, are operating partly as watchdogs of the government and other forces that rule our lives.

That’s the image of the media as “the fourth estate”, an independent monitor and voice.

There is an element of truth in that. But the monitoring is limited because the values and the mindset of the Establishment and the mainstream media are shared.

In New Zealand, that has been a barrier not just to an understanding of Māori values but also, as a consequence, to giving them a fair go in the media.

The initiative for promoting a Māori worldview needs to come from the Māori news organisations, which they’ll manage more and more assertively once they consolidate and get their bearings.

Meanwhile, there’s still a need for the mainstream media to become more proficient in reporting on Māori, and one step towards that is to cast an eye over what is emerging in the Māori media.

A photo from the very early days of Te Karere (from left): Whai Ngata, Wena Harawira, Derek Fox and Pere Maitai.

Tuning in

Unfortunately, the pickings aren’t always rich or easy.

For a start, most Māori news and current affairs programmes are in Māori.

There’s Te Karere each week-night on TV One, Te Kaea every night on Māori Television, hourly bulletins on the iwi network from Radio Waatea and other reo Māori programmes from Mana and Ruia Mai.

Being in Māori, the stories are accessible to only a tiny number of mainstream journos who may tune in. But, even for those who do understand Māori, they’re often not especially informative.

There are two reasons for that. A shortage of well-informed interviewees is one, and a shortage of experienced interviewers is the other.

And there’s no simple way around either of those obstacles. No matter how keen the interest may be, for instance in a political or sports story, the news editors of reo Māori programmes are short of options.

Rarely can they get first-hand comment in Māori from the key figures because so few key figures speak Māori.

They have to rule out Helen Clark, Don Brash, Winston Peters and practically every other politician who may be making news. The same goes for Graham Henry and Tana Umaga in rugby — and for Ruth Aitken, Sarah Ulmer, Hamish Carter, Stacey Jones and almost anyone worth attention in sport. Or the arts. Or business. Or almost any direction you turn.

It’s only in special Māori strongholds where there’s such a concentration of reo Māori fluency that it’s no problem to find someone who has the language and the authority to be worth an interview.

Tūhoe and Ngāti Porou provide that, and so, for instance, do organisations dealing with kōhanga reo and kapa haka.

But, overall, reo Māori news sources are too limited to supply a rich daily (or hourly) diet — or an abundance of news tips and potential follow-ups for the mainstream media.

It’s not just the shortage of interviewees either. Competent reo Māori news gatherers are limited too. Only a few are experienced journalists as well as being fluent speakers of Māori.

Telling the news in Māori has a long history in the New Zealand media.

But, until recently, the practitioners have been a rare breed. It’s only been with the arrival of the Māori Television Service (MTS), that there’s been an organisation with enough money and Māori language journalists to develop their craft.

The MTS, however, is still finding its way and its journalists are still some distance from the stage where their programmes can command the attention of mainstream reporters.

Māori news and current affairs in English has had an easier ride, partly because it’s been able to tap into mainstream Pākehā expertise and experience — and partly because the news sources are so much more abundant and accessible.

It’s been routine for some time for significant stories and viewpoints to surface in programmes such as Paakiwaha (Radio Waatea), The Mana Report (National Radio), Te Heteri (MTS), and Eye To Eye or Marae (TV One).

But they so rarely make waves in the mainstream media that you’re left with the impression that perhaps they’re not monitored at all.

At the launch of Michael King’s book Kawe Kōrero, a guide for covering Māori news commissioned by the NZ Journalists’ Training Board (NZJTB), from left: Michael King, Sherill Tapsell, Lawrence Wharerau, Hiwi Tauroa (then Race Relations Conciliator), and Gary Wilson (NZJTB). (Photo: Tu Tangata, August, 1985.)

The big stories

A prime example of a major Māori story which hasn’t prompted any mainstream interest is the government’s disregard for the second article in the Treaty of Waitangi.

It’s of more than passing interest for Māori. Article II provided a Crown guarantee of tino rangatiratanga for the Māori chiefs in return for the kawanatanga, the right to govern, which was ceded to the Crown.

Over the years, however, the Crown’s kawanatanga has expanded into complete control, into sovereignty, while the tino rangatiratanga has shrunk away to almost nothing.

Perhaps that was inevitable, in view of the Pākehā numbers swelling so dramatically from a couple of thousand in 1840 to the three million or so now.

But full-blown sovereignty wasn’t the Waitangi deal. Nor was a tino rangatiratanga with no authority. And no new deal has been negotiated. Or even discussed.

Yet when successive prime ministers have indicated that they don’t fancy any discussion about the topic, there hasn’t been a peep out of the mainstream media.

There are other issues, however, which also underline the gulf between the two worlds and point to the difference in news priorities. With these stories, there’s the same pattern of lively debate in the Māori media, and the mainstream media not taking much notice.

One such debate has been over the neglect of New Zealand history in our schools because that neglect has consequences, including the kind of ignorance that leads to racial prejudice and conflict.

Another focus has been the value for all our kids of learning reo and tikanga Māori while they’re at school.

Also there’s the issue of Treaty settlements. The trend in this case is for the mainstream media not to carry on about the Māori losses, but to highlight the compensation — and, overall, to leave the false impression that Māori are doing rather well out of the process.

And that the payments are “full” (when not even the Crown negotiators pretend that’s so) — and that’s all New Zealand can afford anyway (when it’s not obvious how land or dollars going into Māori hands are lost to the country).

So there’s some potential for a rethink by mainstream editors about Māori stories that are too significant to warrant the superficial treatment or neglect they’ve had so far.

Work experience on the booster courses . . . Rawiri Wright (top, left) and Vern Rice (bottom left) interviewing Don Ahipene. (Photo: Tu Tangata, June, 1987.)

Too hard?

Another topic which the mainstream media hasn’t pursued with much enthusiasm is its own shortcomings in covering Māori issues.

Of course, it’s natural that any news organisation will publicly examine its own failings with less gusto than it displays when it’s parading the sins of others.

That’s just as true of the Māori media as it is of the mainstream, otherwise we would have had Māori outlets producing a string of stories over the last 15 years about the bungles by various iwi radio stations, by the Whakaruruhau (which oversees these stations), Te Māngai Pāho, the short-lived Aotearoa Television Network, Te Puni Kokiri, Radio Aotearoa, Ruia Mai, Mana Māori Media and now the Māori Television Service.

As it’s happened, the Māori mishaps have only occasionally been pounced on by the mainstream media. John Davey landing the job as chief executive for the MTS when he had no relevant credentials has been the most dramatic example, although there have been others involving Tuku Morgan and the ATN, Trevor Moeke and TMP, and Joanna Paul and Derek Fox at the MTS.

The mainstream’s misdeeds, although a frequent cause of Māori indignation, haven’t often prompted anything like the same publicity. Judging, however, by the spasms of outrage on iwi radio talkback, the sins are substantial.

Perhaps the most common and needless mistake is the mispronunciation of Māori words by mainstream broadcasters even by some, such as John Campbell, who go at it with boundless goodwill.

And one unfortunate, though not surprising, consequence of their ineptitude is that they tolerate similar ineptitude from public figures.

Cabinet ministers and leaders in various fields (education for instance, or business or sport) should know and do better. And the more serious offenders among them should come under some pressure to mend their ways.

It’s an indictment of Talkback ZB, for instance, that Murray Deaker, after excelling for 10 years in many aspects of sports broadcasting, should still feel it’s okay to stumble over Māori (and Pacific) names.

Nor does it reflect well on the Press Gallery journalists that they never got around to ruling Jonathan Hunt, the Speaker of the House, out of order for his slack versions of Tamihere, Awatere-Huata, te Heuheu, Parekura Horomia, Mahara Okeroa, Mita Ririnui, or Tau Henare.

Perhaps such low standards are understandable because many of the mispronunciations, as with Manurewa or Taranaki, have had years of acceptance in Pākehā society and have become ingrained through repetition.

Another factor is that so many New Zealanders never learn a second language and are easily psyched out by any sounds or collection of letters that don’t fit the familiar patterns of English.

Then there’s the likelihood for many broadcasters that, when a deadline is looming, along with a “Matata” or a “Rongo Wetere” in the script, there’s no one worthwhile to turn to for advice or demonstration.

All that may be available is disinterest or misguided reassurance from the uninformed.

Even if there are informed advisors on hand, they aren’t always much more helpful because Māori speakers are tempted to condone a brave but unsuccessful attempt rather than insist on accuracy, and risk panic and despair.

The Māori practice, born of battle fatigue and resignation, seems to have been to be grateful for small mercies (that is, the brave attempts and the occasional successes), and to be unmoved if they aren’t delivered, because that’s how it’s usually been.

The mainstream media’s capacity to overlook its own failings on Māori issues extends, of course, well beyond pronunciation.

It includes a reluctance to accept that, occasionally, when they’ve been chided or even banned by a Māori group (as at Waitangi), it’s because they deserved it.

Then, instead of examining what they’ve done wrong, their attention has focused on the critics and their behaviour.

If the mainstream journalists had ever followed up on those signals of Māori discontent, they may well have raised and already dealt with many of the issues in this paper.

But they’ve been reluctant to see themselves as sinners — and even more reluctant to see that topic as a potential story.

Piripi Walker (right) and Tama Te Huki in the Te Upoko o Te Ika studio on its first day of broadcast in 1987.

Piripi Walker (right) and Tama Te Huki in the studio of Te Upoko o Te Ika on its first day of broadcast in 1987.

Not blameless

Now that there’s substantial money available for Māori broadcasting, there’s no sense in blaming the mainstream media if the Māori voice isn’t widely heard.

Not that there’s been any sense for some time in Māori blaming others. As early as the 1980s, it had become clear that, even with the best of intentions, the mainstream media couldn’t be an efficient vehicle for Māori news and views.

It had also become clear that Māori developments in education, health, Treaty claims, language (or any field you can name) were handicapped, as they still are today, by having to proceed in a society where there’s a lot of ignorance about the Māori situation, and consequently a good deal of resistance and resentment too.

All along, the obvious solution has been for Māori political, business and tribal leaders to make a high priority of building a media system which could erode that ignorance simply by making it much easier for the public to hear Māori stories and discussions.

But such a system has never been on the drawing board. Reports (like Ka Awatea from Winston Peters) have surfaced from time to time without any reference to the value of a strong Māori media or news service.

There have been conferences too (in particular the Hui Taumata) where there’s been the same omission. And ministers have come and gone with still no hint of a plan or of what the priorities should be, apart from a general agreement that te reo Māori should take precedence.

Even this concern about the language has been marred by sloppy thinking at every stage. First, there was the unfortunately narrow interpretation of te reo Māori when the Waitangi Tribunal ruled that it was a taonga deserving protection under Article II of the Treaty.

The assumption has been that te reo Māori means the Māori language. But a more logical interpretation is that it’s the voice of Māori — and that voice, these days, comes in two languages, but predominantly in English. And it’s that whole voice, not just the Māori language, which warrants protection and a strong place in the New Zealand media.

If there’s no provision for protecting and promoting the Māori voice in English, most Māori suffer because they’re not fluent enough to benefit from the programmes in Māori.

Ninety nine percent of non-Māori New Zealanders miss out too, which isn’t all that helpful to the Māori cause because those missing out include not only the majority of the voters but also a few folk, the prime minister for example, who have some sway on Māori matters.

You wouldn’t want to keep them out of the loop — except that’s what is happening.

The saving grace might be if the Māori language was being protected and promoted really astutely through the broadcasting initiatives.

But that’s not so, either. One obvious priority should have been to identify and then invest in the kind of programmes that best promote the language.

There has, however, been no such research. The assumption seems to have been that progress is best made by encouraging lots of Māori language on air. Never mind how mindless or muddled, how bad or boring. Never mind how few people are tuning in. Just let’s do lots.

Niva Retimanu

Niva Retimanu, the award-winning radio newsreader, got her start in an introductory course in Invercargill in the mid-1980s. She went on to study at the journalism course for Pacific students at Manukau Institute of Technology in Ōtara.

Another logical move would have been to build a strong professional radio network as a platform from which television might grow.

But such Māori radio expertise as there was in the early 1990s was quickly fragmented among a couple of dozen relatively amateur iwi stations.

Life for them has been a struggle to survive and, understandably, they haven’t been able to supply a solid professional base on which to build Māori television.

This process is a sad and needless contrast with mainstream broadcasting developments where there had been 40 years of largely state-funded radio and, as a result, any amount of broadcasting experience and expertise to draw on when it was time for TV in the 1960s.

It would’ve made sense as well to recognise, in developing Māori broadcasting, that news programmes are not a wise investment if you’re aiming to get the best bang from the bucks you’re spending on language revitalisation.

News is costly. Also, it’s done on the run, which isn’t in the recipe for producing well-scripted stories. Especially when, as has been noted earlier, there’s no ready-made supply of skilled interviewers or interviewees.

And then, as if there weren’t problems enough, Te Māngai Pāho has been funding three separate news services in Māori, two of them in television and a third in radio.

It’s not an embarrassment of riches. Just an embarrassment.

A graduate of one of the introductory courses, Mike McRoberts, reporting for Campbell Live, TV3, after the Christchurch earthquake on 22 February 2011.

And so?                   

It can be depressing to scan the media and note the ways in which Maori stories are often neglected or mishandled — or to be reminded, as with Don Brash’s Orewa speech and the warm approval for it, of how desperately dopey so many people are about Māori issues.

It defies sanity, though not political advantage, to argue that “special treatment” for Māori (in health or education for instance) is so substantial that it outweighs the losses they have suffered through war, confiscation, legislation, and a Native Land Court designed to dispossess them, to name just a few of the factors.

Yet the idea of Māori getting away with much more than they deserve is, apparently, still popular.

Fortunately, there seems to be enough discontent within the media (mainstream as well as ethnic) about the media’s role in perpetuating this kind of confusion for there now to be an appetite for change.

One question is how keen is that appetite. And, if it’s keen enough, how do we go about change.

My suggestion is that we make take a close look at what has been happening in the past, do a stocktake of the situation now — and then be prepared to take much more decisive action than has been taken so far.

Gary Wilson is the co-editor of E-Tangata and a member of the Mana Trust which oversees it.

© E-Tangata, 2021

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