Just over 72 years ago, as a bandy-legged, freckle-faced, big-eared, runty little 10-year-old Pākehā, I got my first job in the media. My mates knew me as Scraggy Wilson.
And the job was, after school on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, to deliver copies of the Franklin Times, out of my bike’s sugar-bag saddle bags to about 60 houses on a dozen streets in Pukekohe, a few miles from the dairy farm where we lived, out at Helvetia.
Four of us “paper boys” had a delivery round, for 7 shillings and 6 pence. That’s 75 cents. Frank Hewitt was the editor, but we got our pay in three half-crowns from Thelma Smeed who ran the office and came from Tuakau.
Later, I was a cadet reporter at the Auckland Star, did a BA at Auckland University and a year of journalism at the University of California (Berkeley), and then came home and milked the cows when Dad died suddenly.
Next, I did a Dip Ed in Sydney, taught English for five years at St Stephen’s School — along with George Marsden, Koro Dewes, Scotty McPherson, Mark Metekingi, Rawhiti Ihaka, Api Mahuika and Awi Riddell — and taught for three years at a Toronto high school.
Back in New Zealand, I was a sports reporter for the NZ Herald, then a freelancer and a journalism tutor at ATI, the old version of AUT.
Through most of the 1980s, I worked for the NZ Journalists Training Board. That meant running seminars and organising training material for working journalists all around the country.
But, because 98 percent of our journalists were Pākehā in those days, I had good support when I came up with a scheme to bring other talent into the media. That was by running week-long, practical, journalism taster courses for Māori and Pacific Island students — and then to steer the best of them into full-time courses in Rotorua and Manukau. That worked a treat.
Next, I joined forces with Derek Fox and Piripi Whaanga to set up and run Mana Māori Media, and ride herd on Mana magazine for its first 10 years.
Then, in 2014, under the umbrella of the Mana Trust, Tapu Misa and I started editing E-Tangata to provide a platform for Māori and Pasifika writers to tell their stories.
E-T hasn’t been a raging commercial success. In fact, my income here has never matched what Thelma used to hand me each week at the Franklin Times. But there’s some satisfaction in pushing for, as we do, a growing chorus of Māori and Pasifika voices in the media.
It’s a pleasure to hear them. And, every once in a while, like today, as well as encouraging the contributors, we write in support of them and the E-T kaupapa.
The review of Māori media
Nanaia Mahuta has plenty going for her now that she, as the Minister for Māori Development, has decided that it’s time for a good look at the Māori media. So she has Te Puni Kokiri setting a review team on to that job.
One point in her favour is that she’s not Maurice Williamson. That really is a major. He came into parliament from Pakuranga in 1987 and was the National minister who oversaw, and buggered up, a number of Māori broadcasting developments soon after.
That was in the early days of Te Māngai Pāho, the Māori funding agency, which was a spinoff from NZ On Air. And the buggering up from Maurice came in various ways. For instance, he appointed TMP board members who knew nearly as little about Māori broadcasting as he did.
To make matters worse, he knew nothing about te ao Māori either. And, being an arrogant know-all, his style of consultation with Māori, when he bothered with that, was to tell rather than listen.
So, under his watch, Māori radio got off to a shaky start with no clear plan. Then he set about delivering a TV fiasco as well. That was in 1996 when he called for applications to run a pilot Māori TV channel. Fair enough perhaps. Except that it had only seven weeks to get started. From scratch.
Most Māori broadcasters with any TV experience steered clear. Derek Fox, for instance. Waihoroi Shortland and Wena Harawira, too. They wouldn’t touch it. To them, it seemed like lunacy. Not because it was impossible to pull some respectable programmes together in such a short time, but because all it was going to confirm was that (a) there were competent Māori TV broadcasters, and (b) that if they have next to no lead-time, they probably wouldn’t do a flash job. And everyone knew that already. Including Maurice Williamson.
But he had something else on his mind. He had a court case looming and he needed evidence, however shonky, to give the impression that the Crown really was making a noble effort to carry out its responsibility to develop Māori broadcasting.
Anyway, there was a group who decided to have a go. Tuku Morgan, Tawini Rangihau, Morehu McDonald, Puhi Rangiaho, and Robert Pouwhare. They cobbled together ATN, the Aotearoa Television Network. And, in the circumstances, they didn’t do a bad job.
Not that it led anywhere because the Māori channel was still eight years away. And the lasting impression from the exercise wasn’t the demonstration that Māori TV was a goer. Or that the minister had been throwing money away to make himself and the Crown look good. It was that Tuku had treated himself to some flash underpants. With his own money. But somehow that was a big deal for the mainstream media.
Looking back at the Maurice Williamson regime, Nanaia will see that she doesn’t have a hard act to follow. And she has another advantage in that she has a few political colleagues who know their way around broadcasting. Kris Faafoi is one. Then there’s Willie Jackson and Tamati Coffey as well. So there’s scope for some informed debate if TPK’s media review team delivers a report that doesn’t measure up.
There’s also another plus for her. This is in the timing of the review, because the original iwi radio stations — Te Upoko o te Ika and Radio Ngāti Porou — got started in the late 1980s. And there’s been more and more iwi radio since they began. A total of 21 stations at the last count. And, naturally, way more Māori television programming since Koha (1980) and Te Karere (1983) got started, and especially since the Māori channel was launched in 2004.
There are now scores of Māori broadcasters and other journalists who know the media business, and may be able to pinpoint many of the problems, and perhaps a few solutions, too.
It will take imagination and courage to challenge the status quo and deliver a blueprint for significant change. The system we now have has been built on muddled assumptions. Cockeyed legislation, too. And a history of ignoring inconvenient truths.
Here are some of those truths.
Broadcasting in the Māori language is by no means the best way to protect and promote te reo me tikanga Māori.
Māori language programmes are a vital part of any serious campaign to protect and promote the language. But the programmes can’t have much impact unless they’re so interesting or so much fun that listeners and viewers come running.
Experience and research and common sense all indicate that people embrace the language when they’re in places where they can use and enjoy it — and grow in confidence as speakers.
That may be in classes at times. Or in the home. With family. With mates. Playing sport. Singing. Just hanging out. At work. Or in other situations that Te Mātāwai and enlightened teachers like Scotty and Stacey Morrison are encouraging.
Te reo Māori isn’t just the Māori language.
It’s been less and less so since the 1840s. Te reo Māori is also the voice of Māori, and that voice comes in English as well as Māori.
So, when Māori media funding is almost exclusively allocated to Māori language programmes and content, the effect is to limit and even silence the Māori voice in English.
And what’s especially ironic about that, and self-defeating, is that it limits the advocacy for Māori language that needs to keep coming, powerfully, in English.
Otherwise, how are you going to get through to the politicians, and teachers and parents and kids, and journalists, and the assorted rednecks scattered throughout our communities?
There’s too much deep-seated ignorance of te ao Māori all through our mainstream media for us to depend on any consistently professional levels of Māori coverage from them.
Things are improving, but the staff in the mainstream media are mostly products of an education system that has deprived them of reo and tikanga Māori and New Zealand history. And, despite pockets of goodwill, too many of them, unsurprisingly, are too comfortable and set in their ways to do much about that.
A number of Māori leaders seem to assume that it’s largely the Crown’s job to develop Māori broadcasting.
You can understand why Māori at every level don’t warm to the media — and are inclined to keep their distance. They’ve come to know the mainstream media through the years as a beast with a taste for attacking and denigrating Māori, and with a knack for getting things wrong.
But, for several decades now, there’ve been chances for Māori organisations to help build a Māori media system with none of the ignorance and prejudices and clumsy behaviour that have given the mainstream media such an unpleasant reputation in Māori communities.
The Crown is still well short of investing what it should in the Māori media. But Māori organisations have a big role to play as well.
Every Māori development is likely to be handicapped if the Māori media remains weak and inefficient.
That’s a consequence of Māori being a minority in Aotearoa and having to depend on the understanding and goodwill of non-Māori.
Under the present system, there’s no guarantee of widespread understanding or goodwill. Certainly, it hasn’t been abundant in our country’s history. Otherwise, Māori wouldn’t have been deprived of their language. Or their land. And, when it came to the start of the Treaty settlements in the 1990s, Doug Graham would’ve been able to deliver something less shameful than his miserly one or two percent compensation.
The difficulty now is that most non-Māori New Zealanders grow up without any close contact with Māori. And school doesn’t make up the shortfall. So the media is, for many, their main access to anything Māori.
One result is that they’re liable to be ill-informed and uncertain about a number of Māori issues — and sometimes easy prey for politicians or broadcasters who can see an advantage in taking the line, as Don Brash did some years ago at Orewa, that Māori are getting it sweet and are already unfairly privileged.
Some of those anti-Māori prejudices are so ingrained that nothing will dislodge them. But a flourishing, engaging Māori media system would be a tonic for our society.
Nanaia’s dad, Bob Mahuta — like Tipene O’Regan in Ngāi Tahu — was a game-changer for Tainui with his Treaty settlement initiatives.
Nanaia has a chance now to set in motion a significant change for the whole country.
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