“When Māori are used as political football, someone has to make the tackles, and that’s what we try to do.” — Moana Maniapoto, of Te Ao with Moana, named best current affairs programme on TV this year, reflects on the role of Māori media and the lessons of the past year.
It’s a wrap. On Monday night I climbed up on a stool, fossicked around the top shelf of a wardrobe, found a dusty bottle of bubbly and cracked it open to watch our final pre-recorded episode of Te Ao with Moana.
We did 35 episodes. Seven from my backyard in Muriwai. Filming, editing and compiling them remotely across multiple houses. It was a mission.
After the credits went up, we poured another glass each and watched The Spice Girls. We waited for the director to interview the experts in the Spice Girls story — you know, the women themselves?
But no. They just talked about them, not with them. I rinsed my glass on that strange note and thought: “How odd.”
I’ve not been long in the TV current affairs game. Just over two years now. It’s hard work. Intense for a little team because Māori are diverse. We may share history, whakapapa and basic values, but we’re living many different realities.
What we do on our show is talk with different whānau and communities. Not about them.
Take gangs. We did a special on gangs.
Tauranga MP Simon Bridges described gangs to us as a cancer. He reckons there’s no point in talking to them. Instead, we need to come down hard, chuck them in jail and wait until they get out before trying to rehabilitate them. The Minister of Māori Development, Willie Jackson, disagreed. He believes we should reach out to those who are open to transformation. (Just like that other well-known liberal, Rob Muldoon.)
So, I talked to Poutawa Kireka who was born into the Mob. It was the birth of his youngest, a baby girl, that made something shift in his head — that inspired him to be a better person. The other game-changer was finding a champion who believed in him and who could help him work on his behaviour.
Poutawa now describes himself as a fitness influencer. He and his partner began an online fitness business. He’s still in the Mob on a mission to inspire “my bros” in the gang. I can tell he’s a work in progress. My interview with Poutawa has had over a million and half views. So, he’s made people think.
It made me think too about an old mate who was in the Mob.
Huge fulla. Used to trail behind me in Pak’nSave, carrying my shopping basket. He was my buddy and was unfailingly polite around me. I can’t remember even hearing him swear around me.
Once, many years ago, there was a knock at the door and there, to my delight, he was. Sweaty and looking a little agitated.
“I was just in the neighbourhood,” he whispered. I could hardly hear him for the helicopters overhead. He slipped inside the hallway and shut the door.
“Yeah . . . wondered if you could give me some legal advice?”
I put the jug on.
“You know I’ve only just got my law degree,” I told him. “Pretty useless really.”
I poured him a hot cuppa. He was a bit fidgety.
“Yeah . . . so,” he began.“Say you’re in a car with some other fullas, and let’s say they rob a pub or supermarket but you didn’t do anything. . . . Could you go to jail just ‘cause you’re in the car?”
I stared at him blankly. He left before he finished his cuppa. He ended up inside. Maybe he went back and forth a couple of times.
But one day, he met a wonderful woman, had kids, and an old friend gave him a job and a suit. He has champions in his life. Our mate has mostly done pretty good, but every once in a while, he’d nut off and his boss would give him the boot. It was like there was something he almost had control over. But not totally.
He’s a work in progress and back at his job. I’m proud to hear that.
Two politicians who’ve been outspoken about gangs are National MPs Simeon Brown and the aforementioned Simon Bridges. Surprisingly, neither of them have friends or relatives in gangs. In fact, Simeon admitted to our reporter, Ximena Smith, that he’d never even met a gang member.
Yet both slammed the government, police and the Human Rights Commissioner for funding outreach programmes specifically to arrest meth addiction in gang whānau.
Our gang special was a chance to strike a middle ground — neither demonising nor glorifying gangs, but unpacking the subject. After all, gangs don’t come out of nowhere, as Professor Tracey McIntosh told us in convincing detail.
Gang members are part of whānau. They are volunteer firemen, public servants, community workers, students. And when it comes to breaking the cycle of drug addiction or promoting vaccine uptake or changing behaviour, as our guests Paula Ormsby, Liz Makalio and Jenny Manuera reminded us, it makes perfect sense that they lead their own strategies.
It’s a mission working to collapse these complicated stories and to break down big kaupapa into 10-20 minutes on the TV screen.
Often we use the programme to unpack the mess created on other platforms by those who are obsessed with clicks and embedding the status quo. When Māori are used as political football, someone has to make the tackles, and that’s what we try to do.
We talk to those in the thick of it. We ensure that we interview trusted sources, professionals who are qualified, experienced and on top of the issue we’re discussing — and who see it through a clear Māori and Tiriti lens.
I say all this because we’re living in a dangerous era where opinion and fact are often interchangeable. Where “research” on Google outweighs degrees and years of specialist experience. Where YouTube clips by foreigners are given more credibility than Māori experts who have consistently applied a tino rangatiratanga lens across their mahi. Where there’s now a greater need than ever for reports from credible and accountable sources.
In our final show, I learned that, even after your guilty conviction is quashed, it’s not over. An applicant seeking compensation needs to then prove their innocence on a balance of probabilities.
That’s not easy.
Terri Friesen was just 21 when she was convicted for the manslaughter of her seven-week-old baby, Chantelle, in November 1989.
Her then-partner, Brownie Broughton, confessed to police on two separate occasions that he was the offender. He was eventually convicted of the baby’s manslaughter in 2002.
Justice Chambers wrote this in his sentencing notes: “Chantelle’s mother in fact had nothing to do with Chantelle’s death . . . You stood by and let her confess to a crime which she had not committed.”
But Terri’s conviction remained on her record until the Court of Appeal quashed it in 2018. I asked Terri about her reaction to a letter from Kris Faafoi, the Minister of Justice, rejecting her bid for compensation — which is at the discretion of the minister and must be signed off by cabinet.
“Heartbroken,” was Terri’s tearful reply.
In the minister’s response to her, he points to her false confession as one reason that it wouldn’t be in the interests of justice to award her compensation.
He wrote that concern for the welfare of her partner and daughter “explain why she falsely confessed but does not excuse it” — and that “intentionally lying to the police and the court perverts the course of justice”.
I interviewed Professor Julia Tolmie, an expert in intimate partner violence. She taught me that it’s not uncommon for victims to put their hand up and take responsibility for an offence that their partner has committed. She criticised the police response as compounding the abuse.
“An appropriate safety response by the police might have been to think there may well be other victims here,” Julia told us.
“The police in this case did the exact opposite.”
Something else I learned this year? A couple of big, flash words. Like “apotheosis” and “deracinated”.
Both fell from the lips of Tā Tīmoti Kāretu, who I sometimes refer to as the Godfather of the Māori Language movement. Yes. Tā Tī. He of the fearsome reputation and disdain for those whose reo he describes as “mundane” and “mediocre”.
I suspected I landed squarely in that camp, so I’d spent the last 40 years trying to avoid a conversation with him. My friend Dame Hinewehi Mohi told me I should interview him. We teed it up.
In that interview, he delivered numerous jibes. Like: “This is such a boring conversation.” Or: “We’re waffling here.” Or: “This has been tortuous.” And I learned that I didn’t need to rise to the bait.
But I could see at close quarters how singularly focused he is on te reo Māori.
Tīmoti is all good with Pākehā learning, teaching and recording in the language. He’s good, too, with Māori terms being used by police and government ministries. “By all means, get it out there,” he said.
And that word “apotheosis” kept rearing its head. It means the pinnacle or culmination of something, a vital reminder that our people didn’t settle for mediocrity — that, historically, we valued expertise.
That’s important. During a pandemic, it’s been my role to seek out experts. Here’s what I learned.
The vaccine will not change your DNA. And it didn’t just pop out of nowhere, untested. Work done on this vaccine encompassed decades, anticipating the emergence of this type of virus.
Vaccination protects not just those who get the jabs but also people who can’t be vaccinated. Vaccines are not a magic bullet, but they’re an important EXTRA layer of protection.
I found that out because I chatted to Dr Anthony Jordan and Dr Maia Brewerton. They are clinical immunologists. Māori too. Members of Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā.
Like other members of that rōpū, they say the benefits of a vaccine far outweigh the risks. Yes, there can be side effects. Yes, you can still catch Covid. But it won’t be as severe.
And that’s important because non-Covid surgeries and treatment will be cancelled as staff are redeployed and choices are made about who to treat — which is something Te Rōpū Whakakaupapa Urutā have been worried about right from the start.
Pandemics have generally treated Māori especially badly. And many of our people are still in need of basic health information. So we should ask ourselves this question: What are we doing wrong?
For one thing, the outreach strategies for the vaccination rollout should never have been a one-size-fits-all template.
And maybe when we talk about those people who are suspicious of vaccines, we should adopt the same approach as when we talk about gang members. We shouldn’t get “all judgey”, to quote Sir Justice Joe Williams who was my guest in May.
As we learned with gang members (and the Spice Girls), it’s better to kōrero with people than about them. And, more importantly, to listen to them.
Te Ao with Moana will be back on Māori Television next year. In the meantime, here is their latest contribution to ensuring whānau Māori have credible information, delivered by top Māori doctors, about Covid and the vaccine.
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