May 12, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Maori broadcasting & the year of living dangerously

9 min read

From the Sparrowhawk/Karearea blog.

This week there will be yet another one of those end-of year functions. Perhaps you are familiar with such things. Perhaps you have been press-ganged into a few yourself. Or perhaps you have managed (like me) to use your children as an excuse to avoid anything remotely Christmassy/Secret Santa-ish. Well. spare a thought for one of those functions that will be held this week; the break-up, in more than one way, of the Maori and Pacific programmes department at TVNZ. There will be, no doubt, much k?rero,sadness and reflectiveness as the current staff look back over many decades of service that this department has given in the pursuit of New Zealanders understanding ourselves just a little bit better. Ernie Leonard, Whai Ngata, Mihingarangi Forbes, Stephen Stehlin, Ngaire Fuata, Matai Smith, Hineani Melbourne, Quinton Hita, Osone Okesene, oh crikey. Need I go on? You get the picture. A whole lot of talent pooled in order to create some damn fine TV over three decades, or near enough to. As you might bewareTVNZannouncedin Octoberthat it will divest itself of most Maoriand Pacific programming.In fact, TVNZannouncedlast weekits preferred production companies to take on producing the other shows. but rest assured,TVNZwill stillcharge those lucky independent programme makers premium rates for the use of TVNZ facilities to make the same programmes. Soeffectively thiscornucopia of Maoriproductionwill be no more (except for Te Karere). Whither now TVNZs legislative functionthat sets out, in s12(3) of the TVNZ Act 2003 that TVNZ must provide high-quality content that [] reflects Maoriperspectives I wonder.

I certainly dont doubt the talents and skills that reside in our young, independent production houses. I wish them all the best for this new, and no doubt, exciting path. But make no mistake, the indefinablesomething,that collective enterprise that was just big enough to make a change to NZ broadcasting culture, that trained and weldedgenerations of Maoriand Pasifika broadcasters, journalists, technical staff together to create something bigger than the sum of those individuals, will vanish. That job of cultural transformation must not be left to independent Maoriand Pasifika vehicles. There must be space for difference within the machinery of the mainstream. More on this later. But for this momentspare a thought on Thursday night for that sad celebration.

Actually 2014 is a red-letter year for Maoribroadcasting, it seems to me. For one thing, it was the 10th anniversary of another important source of Maoriimages and voices: the MaoriTelevision Service, MTS, or better known just as MaoriTelevision.

Actually, the mostannoyingthing Judith Collins ever said, in my view, happened way back in May 2014 at the time of the 10th birthday celebrations. Now, I get that some people will be somewhat ideologically ill-disposed to MTS. Fair enough. Each to their ideological own. But thisreported comment, made with the trademark Collins curled lip, got my goat and just about killed it:

Mrs Collins said most of the time when she tuned in the station was broadcasting reruns of things that were running 30 years ago.

I would like Maori TV to be considered one of our icons but at the moment it is not, Mrs Collins said.

Its not dealing with the big issues. And when it does deal with them it is often seen not to be evenly handed in its treatment of them.

The absolute barefaced untruth of the first line of thiscomment was easily demonstrated by the most casual perusal of the channels programming for that month. So it was quite obvious she had either never actually tuned in to MaoriTelevision more than, you know, that ONE time [at band camp], or she had happened one day upon a repeat screeningofKohaorTangata Whenuaon Heartland and thought she was really was lost among the natives. This insulting dismissal of all that MTS has tried to achieve over ten years felt like a punch in the gut to me, and I dont even work there! Nor do I think the programming is perfect either, but the accusation she makes is one of which that station is simply not guilty. And as far as Im concerned, her egregious first comment negates what might have been marginally debatable points in the other lines. People who just make things up simply dont get to be a critic that anyone listens to.

But her comment did raise food for thought at the time, and still does. What is it that we expect an organisation like MTS to achieve? And, likewise, what do (or did) we expect of our more mainstream broadcasters such as TVNZ, RNZ and others in regards to promoting Maoricontent,training new broadcasters and, oh I dont know, upholding or creating the authentic vision of how we think Maoriought to be portrayed?

Lets just say that there have been some pretty big events this year that are setting the scene for Maorimedia in this country.I dont really know how the cards are going to fall, but there is a lot of shuffling going on at the moment.

in addition to the gutting of M?ori and Pacific programming at TVNZ we also have:

  • MTSin the middle of a restructure, and scoping a possiblemove, with a couple ofits high profile figures (and a few others not so high profile) recently jumping ship;Julian WilcoxandCarol Hirschfeld.
  • Native Affairs(on MaoriTelevision) is still weathering some ongoing ructions about the nature of the programme, and debate aboutthe future of investigative journalism at MTS. A particular series of examples arose in the election campaign pursued by Hone Harawira and the MANA Movement to highlight what they claimed to bethreatsagainst NAandTe Kaea by MTS and its Board. This series of claims has been running for a few months now,culminating a few weeksago in Harawirasaccusations about political interference in the content of Native Affairs by Paora Maxwell (MTS Chief Executive)reportedly rescinding an invitation forHone Harawira to attend the final show of the year (although we only really have Honesaccountto go by). In addition, there are theongoing consequencesfrom Native Affairs investigation into the commercial arm of the Kohanga Reo National Trust, Te Pataka Ohanga. For all the many admirers of Native Affairs investigative journalism in the Pakeha world (seehere,andherefor example), opinion is more divided within Maoridom (see the second half of thisTe Putatara postcritiquingNative Affairs objectivity in that saga, and We Take Manhattensaccountof some of those critiques).
  • The current progress of theM?ori Language Billthrough Parliament and the forthcoming implementation ofTe Matawai, a new governanceagency that willprovide direction on the future directions for te reo Maori,taking control of Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Maori (the Maori Language Commission) and Te Mangai Paho (the Maori Broadcasting Fund Agency). This new entity will also absorb Te Putahi Paoho, the electoral college for Maori Television;
  • In May this yearMaoriradio stationsreceived a boost infunding of $12 million,for the next four yearthat has set up a challenge, and perhaps a point of debate and even tension for those stations about how best to use that funding and develop the existing stations and yet still keep a door open for new radio stations to develop.
  • and then there has been thelaunch, this year of thefirst modern Maorimainstream newspaper,Mangai Nuiin collaboration with the Rotorua Daily Post.

Crikey. Thats quite a lot to be going on with.

There is always risk in expecting any one organisation to bear the weight of all Maoriand Pakeha expectations of what Maorimedia should be. One of our problems is that we are not always sure what it is we think Maori broadcasting ought to achieve, so, when big changes are signaled we dont quite know how to read them. Or at least, I havent been sure. Take MTS, for example. What will be the result of the current changesat MTS? It may, actually, be better and more focused on doing what it was set upto do, provide a way and means of protecting, preserving and promotingthe Maorilanguage and tikanga Maori. Actually, however much we might want MTS to reflect the diversity and dynamism of modern (Maori)New Zealand, however much we might want it to be THE public broadcaster,it wasnt set up todothat. The fact that it does those things, and with aplomb, is a testament to its staff and its ingenuity. But make no mistakeit has a legislative job to do. s3 of the Maori Television Services Act sets outthe recognition that Crown and Maoritogether have an obligation under the Treaty of Waitangi to preserve, protect and promote te reo Maori. S8 of the Act sets out the principal function of the Act, which is:

to promote te reo me nga tikanga Maorithrough the provision of a high quality, cost effective Maoritelevision service, in both Maoriand English, that informs, educates, and entertains a broad viewing audience, and in doing so, enriches New Zealands society, culture and heritage.

In 2009 the review of the Act found that there was an inconsistency between the implementation of ss3 and 8. The reviewerssaid:

In effect the Act is successful in providing for the promotion of te reo Maori, but is less clear in providing for its preservation and protection.

But legislation be blowed, in on sense. Programme-makers, broadcasters, journalists, writers,presenters..all these people bring themselves into the public sphere in some way and change our cultural landscape even when we dont know they are doing it.

Whatever our Treaty-based, legislative, cultural or emotional expectations of our Maorimedia in general, and broadcasters in particular, this country owes a massive debt to Maorimedia in all its forms. This has been the case ever since the beginnings ofMaori newspapersin the 1840s. Maorimedia, with all theirfaults, and variance and ideologies and truth-constructions, have helped to foster a sense of connectedness and fellow-feeling between disparate members of Maoricommunities. They have reflected Maoriback to ourselves, even as we can argue endlessly over what distortions might be writ large in those images, words and sounds. They have given true glimpses of Maorilife to those who dont share that life. And Maorimedia have, for over 160 years, offered a portal into Maorithinking that is rarelyoffered within what we now offhandedly refer to as MSM, or mainstream media.

Perhaps I had better be clear on what I mean by Maorimedia. I am not referring only to Maorirun organisations independent of larger mainstream entities. Sometimes Maorimedia has extended its reach into Maoridom more by way of the Trojan Hoiho technique. Some of the Maorinewspapers, for example, were government organs, but letters to the editor, and some editorial material did a pretty fine job of reflecting Maoridom, notwithstanding the intent that such organs be instruments of Crown propaganda. When TheNZBC appointed Maori broadcasters inthe 1930s and 40s, they were to providean extraordinary legacy within Maori media (and broadcasting history). As written by one of the towering figures of Maori broadcasting, Henare Te Ua, some years ago:

Who were, these pioneers? Professor James Shelley, Director of early broadcasting, during the 1930s appointed four air-staff Maori, one each in the four main centres. In Auckland, Ngati Whatuas Lou Paul a skilled singer and musician, in Wellington, Kingi Tahiwi of Ngati Raukawas musically talented Tahiwi whanau he died over North Africa while serving with the Royal Air Force, Ngai Tahus Te Ari Pitama was appointed in Christchurch, and Wharekauri (Chatham Islands) Airini Grennel in Dunedin.

While not appointed as Maori broadcasters, they were bi-culturally adept broadcasters who were Maori, each possessing style and flair and te reo which they used on-air. My opinion is that their personal, outgoing charismas quietly opened their Pakeha colleagues insights into te ao Maori the Maori world and were at the genesis of Maori broadcasting

I think the second paragraph is very apt. It is a lonely thing sometimes to be the Maori voice within a mainstream organisation. But those lonely voices are absolutely vital, in any form of broadcasting or media, and, I would venture, in any organisation with public relevance, actually. The problem with being the lonely voice is that it can more easily, and with relative impunity, be silenced.

So. Heres to both the lonely Maori and Pasifika voices in within mainstream media, wherever they are found, and those voices of other Maori and Pasifika who are able to paddle their own media waka. Kia mau tonu koutou.

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