Māori: The heart or the fringe dwellers of future NZ media

Sound desk at MTS coverage of regional kapa haka.  Source: Roy Taoho

      Hineani Melbourne
      25th February 2020

New Zealand media needs to change to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving media landscape but is the government’s proposed merger of Radio NZ and TVNZ into a new public broadcaster entity the answer?   Will Māori be the heart of any changes or continue to be pushed to the fringes?

Minister of Broadcasting Kris Fa’afoi admits the future of New Zealand’s media is uncertain and says changes have to be made if there is to be a strong viable public broadcasting service.

PwC has been hired to produce a business case for a new public broadcasting entity, and to see whether the merger of TVNZ and Radio NZ into a new public broadcasting entity is a practical and workable solution.

The proposed merger moved a step closer with the chief executives of both organisations fronting up to the Economic Development, Science and Innovation select committee last week.

There’s still a lot of debate about the benefits with Radio NZ chief executive Paul Thompson saying advertising will create challenges for a public broadcaster. “At its heart though, it needs to have a public media objective, not commercial objectives.”

Kevin Kendrick TVNZ’s chief executive says that joining a public broadcaster like Radio NZ with a commercial entity like TVNZ may not result in job losses.  In fact he says, the merger could see more journalists.  

TVNZ’s dominance in this market was blamed for undermining TV3 with Media Works offering up the channel for sale at the end of last year.   If there were no buyers by Christmas Media Works threatened to simply close the doors.

It sent waves of panic through NZ media and political circles confirming that the status quo has to change and that the government needs to act.

Thompson warns the government that the new entity shouldn’t undermine the viability of other media companies. 

The government wants the new broadcaster up and running by 2023.    There’s a general election at the end of this year.    Even if Labour stay in power with MMP there are no guarantees that the present partners will still be in Parliament.  National says it will ditch the merger if elected. 

Nearly all agree there needs to be changes if a New Zealand voice, culture and world view is to survive.

Journalism is no longer seen as a viable career, particularly if you’re Māori or Pasifika.   Less than 8-percent of journalists are Māori and the number of Pasifika or Asian journalists are negligible. 

How can a multi-cultural city like Auckland have no Asian or Pasifika journalists, and few Māori?   Neither TVNZ nor Radio NZ news rooms or boardrooms for that matter, reflect the population of New Zealand.

Where does this leave Māori media with its emphasis on culture, language and Māori stories from a Māori viewpoint?   Māori have reverted to the old model of learning on the job particularly for journalism.  It is not a choice it is a necessity.   

Te Karere has played on TVNZ against all the odds since 1982.   That’s 38 years of neglect, poor budgets and resources but still it survives.   Māori Television has the same problems, not enough trained or experienced reporters and limited funding. 

There is no school for Māori language speaking journalists and Māori do not survive the existing journalist training schools in tertiary institutes where over 90 percent of the students and 100 percent of the tutors are Pākeha. 

A few seasoned Māori journalists provide support and coaching to create a pool of journalists who know the Māori world, who speak the language of the people whether it is Māori or English, who know tikanga and cultural practices.

At the same time as the review of public broadcasting there is a Māori Media Sector Review which is before Cabinet.  

The Māori screen industry has only a few ‘hints’ as to the direction of the Māori Media review with Te Puni Kōkiri researchers reluctant to even talk or engage in a meaningful way with Māori media organisations. 

It has been suggested that Te Māngai Pāho the Māori funding body tasked with funding Māori language media, will  merge with Māori Television.    How that will work is unknown.

If that occurs of particular concern are the Māori programmes such as Waka Huia – the long running archival Māori language series and Marae on TVNZ, and a few others on Prime or Choice TV.   While these are only a few programmes they far out-rate Māori Television broadcasts.  More people including Māori watch these programmes on mainstream television.

Like other broadcasters world-wide Māori are desperate to try and reach the fickle youth market.   They are the future of our language and culture yet their viewing and screen preferences are so variable and fluid that it is difficult to put a finger on what attracts them.   What works this year may not work the following year or even the following month.

There are also indications that iwi radio stations will be rationalised with fewer stations and concentrated into seven hubs.   Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori, the iwi radio representative says their radio stations were formed out of a Treaty of Waitangi claim and their primary task is to foster and give voice to the tribes they represent. 

Part of the drive of the Māori language revival is to foster the unique dialect of hapu(family collectives) and iwi(tribes).   Chair of Whakaruruhau, Peter-Lucas Jones runs the successful far north Te Hiku o Te Ika  says their iwi radio station represents five tribes.  It is an active media hub which among other things has fostered their unique dialects and gained funding of $13million over 7 years for a data science programme “a language platform for a multilingual Aotearoa”. 

If iwi radio stations are forced to merge how would that work as most iwi radio stations are based in poorly represented Māori communities.

Of course the frustration is the not knowing, the “folding in of information”, a phrase the Te Puni Kōkiri researchers are fond of, that doesn’t acknowledge the Māori media representatives such as Ngā Aho Whakaari who represent the Māori screen industry and Whakaruruhau.

It’s interesting that both Thompson and Kendrick say that the new public broadcaster should have a “rich vein of Māori culture right at the heart”.  Radio NZ and TVNZ have for decades pushed Māori culture to the fringes as a matter of course that they are now declaring a change of attitude is seen by many as a blatant attempt to maintain relevance and of course to attract any Māori funding.

We need to make sure that neither organisation nor the proposed public broadcaster get to define what constitutes Māori culture or content without Māori having a real say and that does not mean bringing in consultants but having Māori in real positions of decision making at the table.

Author:  Hineani Melbourne has worked in many aspects of Māori media and is presently the Chair of Ngā Aho Whakaari who represent Māori in the screen industry.


Popular Posts