A review of Māori media, called the Māori Media Sector Shift, was launched by the Minister of Māori Development, Nanaia Mahuta, last year. It offers an opportunity to analyse what’s been done over the last 30 or so years and come up with practical plans to ensure that Māori voices in the media are stronger.

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

Atakohu Middleton, a former print reporter who’s writing her PhD thesis on reo-Māori journalism, joins the discussion.


Māori-language news — currently Te Karere (TVNZ), Te Kāea (Māori Television) and the iwi radio news service delivered by Radio Waatea — is brought to you by the public purse through Te Māngai Pāho (TMP), the Māori-language broadcasting agency. The shows are facing an uncertain future, with two reviews in the works.

The first, announced in late 2017 by TMP, proposed integrating Māori-language news-gathering to make better use of limited funding. Last year, the TMP head, Larry Parr, told me that TMP wasn’t necessarily looking to end any of the established news programmes, but wanted to streamline news gathering into some sort of collaborative one-stop shop, with shows curating their own content.

Unsurprisingly, the idea was not welcomed. No one wants to give up their patch.

The second review was a surprise to many of us, and stalled TMP’s plans. In October last year, Nanaia Mahuta announced that her ministry, Te Puni Kōkiri, would, in the course of the Māori Media Sector Shift “explore the most effective and efficient way of funding and producing te reo and tikanga Māori content”. The aim, she said, was to ensure that Māori media was “future-proofed”.

Downloading the terms of reference, I thought that maybe there’d finally be a look at the quality and sustainability of Māori-language news. But there’s not one word about journalism at a time when journalism has a big problem. Several problems, in fact.

For a start, the profession is not valued. Poor pay is a factor. There’s a shortage of qualified bilingual people, so news shows poach reporters off each other. Most worryingly, untrained young people fluent in te reo are being hired to fill the gaps, but they often burn out because they don’t get enough support and training.

These insights emerged from the first National Māori Journalism Hui in October 2016, at Massey University, Albany. When we had round two last December, again at Massey, nothing had changed.

Keith Ikin, attending as the head of Māori Television (MTS) said: “There’s a minority of trained journalists who are Māori-language speakers. A very small minority. The majority of reo-Māori journalists are fluent speakers who have been thrown into the hot seat and have had to swim amongst the sharks and survive … they’ve had to try and build their journalistic skills, somehow.”

That’s not fair on them. And a lack of trained journalists means that viewers don’t always get what they should expect, as Te Karere executive producer Arana Taumata was brave enough to admit on E-Tangata in November.

In an era where truth is under assault from clickbait, deliberate misinformation, public-relations spin and social-media rumour, we need all our journalists to be equipped to fight back with accurate, balanced, and fair coverage.

We need our Māori journalists to be as well-armed as their Pākehā peers so they can tell the stories of our (Māori) world, give us the information we need to make good decisions about our (Māori) lives, and act as a check on (Māori) power. Mainstream media won’t do that for us.

A plea

I have an inoi, a plea: Whatever the structure of reo-Māori news in the future, it’s time for TMP to put the responsibility for formal training firmly into the reo-Māori newsroom, making meaningful, structured training a core requirement for public money and providing adequate funding for it.

By meaningful, I mean training that’s focused, relevant and costed, and delivered by dedicated, qualified people. Any training that depends on an overburdened news editor having a spare minute invariably fails.

We can no longer hand out money for Māori-language journalism without having an interest in its quality and sustainability. Quality journalism is a necessity in a democracy. Cooking programmes and sports shows, which TMP also funds, aren’t in the same league.

Part of the problem is structural, according to Larry Parr, the head of TMP. At the journalists’ hui, he said reo-Māori news and current affairs is a “by-product” of the funding model. What he means is that TMP pays for language revitalisation, which includes modelling good reo in all everyday domains, news included. Its mandate is for the quality and quantity of language, not the quality of journalism.

But what’s the point of funding Māori news if the newsgathering isn’t up to par?

All TMP programmes have to provide a language plan to show how they intend to meet reo revitalisation goals. It wouldn’t be hard to require those seeking news funding to present a long-term training plan for journalists, whether in-house or in partnership with a journalism school. It wouldn’t be hard to create a regime to assess the standard of the reporting, either — news editors do that every day.

TMP already assesses the quantity of news in te reo (Te Kāea and Te Karere have to have at least 70 percent) and the quality of the language used by reporters and presenters.

As it stands, the people who assess reo quality appear to sometimes have difficulty separating out language-quality issues from journalism-quality issues, although the latter is technically outside their scope.

To illustrate, for my research, I asked TMP under the Official Information Act for the most recent quality assessments for Te Karere, Te Kāea, and the two Waatea news shows, Waatea News and the interview-based Manako.

In two separate television reviews, the assessors made similar comments on the perceived quality of the journalism. One said: “It is about good reporting as much as anything”. The other said: “In general, I feel it is the craft of journalism that is questionable … [being] a good reo speaker doesn’t necessarily qualify you as a good reporter”.

Once upon a time, TMP could rely on outside groups training Māori speakers in journalism and funnelling them into reo-Māori media. But those days are long gone, and the pipeline has dried up. To explain how we got into this predicament, we need to take a look at the history of Māori journalism training in Aotearoa.

In the beginning …

Māori-language news as we now know it started in 1983 with the launch of Te Karere. The initial staff — Derek Fox, Whai Ngata and Purewa Biddle — were fluent speakers who had trained in English-language journalism.

When Te Karere brought non-journos on board, such as Wena Harawira and Tini Molyneux, they were trained in-house. Later, as TVNZ planned the launch of its Māori and Pacific Programmes unit in the late 1980s, it made sure its new staff would be ready.

In conjunction with the journalism school at what is now AUT, TVNZ ran a three-month crash course for seven young people, four of whom had trained in journalism, and then employed them when the unit opened in 1987. Graduates still in the game include Iulia Leilua, the 2018 Māori journalist of the year, and Erana Keelan Reedy, who now heads Radio Ngāti Porou.

In 1989, needing fresh faces for Te Karere, the unit took a different tack. In partnership with consultants, it ran a one-off, eight-week journalism course in-house for eight reo speakers with life and work experience, but no reporting background. That launched the careers of Martin Rakuraku, Joe Glenn, Wena Tait, Rau Kapa, Matekino Wīhongi, and the head of Te Karere, Arana Taumata.

Meanwhile, in the early 1980s, Gary Wilson, who was working for the New Zealand Journalists Training Board, persuaded the board and the Department of Māori Affairs to fund five-day introductory courses to give Māori and Pacific school leavers a taste of journalism, with the aim of funnelling them into either the half-year course in Auckland or the year-long course at Wellington Polytechnic.

But he found that those journalism schools were too set in their Pākehā ways to be effective in developing Māori talent. So, in 1985, Gary and his helpers launched formal journalism training aimed at Māori at the-then Waiariki Community College in Rotorua. (This was followed a year later by a journalism course for Pacific students at the Manukau Institute of Technology).

For nearly 30 years, Waiariki trained dozens of young Māori who went into both reo-Māori and reo-Pākehā news. Many graduates are well known, among them Maramena Roderick (past head of news for Māori Television), Te Anga Nathan (a former head of MTS news now at TMP), Eruera Morgan (Radio Waatea), Justine Murray (Radio New Zealand), Semiramis Holland, Lynette Amoroa and Mere McLean (all MTS), Maiki Sherman (1 News) and Irena Smith (Te Karere).

Some reo-speaking journalists, such as Mihi Forbes and Peata Melbourne, came through on-the-job training at TVNZ. A small number came, and continue to come, through mainstream tertiary journalism schools, among them Hone Edwards (MTS), Shannon Haunui-Thompson (RNZ), and Talisa Kupenga (MTS).

In the early 1990s, the government started funding iwi radio news, initially through Mana Māori Media (MMM). The company (set up by three experienced journos Derek Fox, Piripi Whaanga and Gary Wilson) employed fluent speakers such as Rereata Makiha, Waihoroi Shortland, Tawini Rangihau, Wena Harawira, Wena Tait, Andrew Robb and Numia Ponika-Rangi.

This crew provided stories in English for Radio New Zealand as well in te reo for the iwi radio network. They had a breadth of life experience that fed into their reporting, showing the newbies what good reo-Māori journalism looked like.

Then, from 1996 to 2004, when Ngāti Whātua-owned Ruia Mai held the iwi radio news contract, it trained a good number of the early graduates of whare kura. Among them were Gloria Taumaunu, now a Te Kāea news producer, and Amomai Pihama and Oriini Kaipara, both ex-MTS. Others who got their start at Ruia Mai included Annabelle Lee-Mather, Ngahuia Wade and Mānia Clarke.

When Radio Waatea won the iwi network contract in 2004, the newly-born Māori television channel had sucked up much of the trained reporting talent. Waatea manager, Bernie O’Donnell, says that getting experienced journalists into iwi radio remains difficult, and staff turnover is high. Waatea hires people for their language skills and puts them under the wings of more experienced staff to learn about reporting: “It’s a mentoring process as opposed to instruction.”

Waatea has seven bilingual reporting staff in its Auckland office — Scotty Morrison, Tūmamao Harawira, Eruera Lee-Morgan, Lady Pokai, Paratene Wirapa, Rangi McLean and Ellyce McLeod — and six in iwi stations in the regions.

“We do what we can with the resource we have,” says Bernie. That resource has shrunk, with funding for the news service falling from a $1.4 million in 2004 to $1.1 million today.

Changing times

The Māori and Pacific Programmes unit at TVNZ, which did such a good job of training so many Māori journos, was closed in 2014. All its shows, except for Te Karere, were given to outside providers.

The closure of the Waiariki journalism school in 2013 caused dismay. According to an insider, the programme tried to encourage young Māori to enrol, “but they weren’t interested … they were telling us: ‘Look, you know, if I want to access an audience, I can pick up my phone and I can actually have an audience straight away. I don’t need to go and work for a broadcaster, I don’t have to work in radio, work in television’.”

In the digital age, journalism is losing its lustre. Enrolments in sub-degree, vocationally-oriented journalism courses have plummeted. The journalism schools at the Southern Institute of Technology and the Western Institute of Technology closed in 2015, followed by the Whitireia course in Wellington last year.

University journalism courses seem steady, but they enrol relatively few Māori students.

If you were a kura kaupapa graduate offered a television job for your reo, would you put that off for several years while you study and incur a student loan in the process? Engari mō tēnā — no way. You’d cross your fingers and take the job.

However, you can’t expect untrained people to suddenly morph into proficient reporters. As Keith Ikin said last year: “It’s unrealistic and an unfair expectation when we throw people into the deep end and expect them to be able to develop, especially in terms of journalism skills.”

Deadlines and the need to become a minor expert on a range of issues makes journalism an exciting but stressful job, without the added pressures of learning on the hoof and making your rookie mistakes in public.

It takes time and training to understand what news is, and, in particular, what news through a Māori lens looks like. It takes a while to learn what accuracy, balance and fairness mean in practice. It takes time to grasp how civic and iwi institutions work and how the law applies to reporters.

It takes time and practice to gain life skills and the confidence to handle people, especially those inclined to dissemble. It takes endless hours to learn how to write well — every news story, however it’s transmitted, starts as words on screen. An added burden for reo-Māori journalists is that they have to write in two languages.

While some of these untrained employees get a handle on the job and thrive, many others are being spat out, moving into less stressful areas of media, or exiting altogether. What a waste of talent when quality training might have made a difference.

So there’s a challenge for TPK, for TMP, for Nanaia Mahuta and the broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi, and for the policy people who will write the future of Māori media. The challenge is to see that the quality and sustainability of reo-Māori journalism is treated as important as the language that delivers it.

We need a structure that will develop a new generation of bilingual reporters who are as skilled and confident as their mainstream peers.

  • Have your say on how te reo and Māori content programmes will be delivered in future. Online survey and submissions are open until February 28, 2019.


Atakohu Middleton is of Ngāti Māhanga, English, and Irish whakapapa. She spent 25 years in English-language print journalism, working on staff for the Sunday Star-Times, the New Zealand Herald and the New Zealand Listener, and freelancing for publications like Mana. A reo speaker and a keen consumer of Māori-language news, she is now writing a PhD thesis on how tikanga influences the way in which journalists in reo-Māori news do their jobs.



© E-Tangata, 2019

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