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Media Vital For Political Change - Panther Founder

NZ: Media Vital For Political Change, Says Polynesian Panthers Founder

By Justis Kamu: Pacific Media Centre

His 1970s afro has been cut off, and his tight jeans and floral shirt have long gone. But Will ‘Ilolahia is still making noise in the Pacific Islands community.

A founder of the Polynesian Panthers civil rights movement, he challenged the media before a packed audience at AUT University’s Pacific Media Centre last night.

“The media has a major role to play in our society. It’s important we use it correctly as it has a lot to do with change.” (Image: Then …. Polynesian Panthers rally in the 1970s. Photo: John Miller.

In the seminar – a “Polynesian Panthers” restrospective, including the showing of the 2005 documentary Dawn Raids – ‘Ilolahia highlighted the importance for Pacific Island communities in using the media.

Earlier this year, he convened a committee that campaigned for the removal of “offensive” sex billboards in Auckland advertising a remedy for male sexual dysfunction.

“The problem with the media is they love the word sex. Thankfully, I was able to use my Pacific Island contacts in the media, such as columnist Tapu Misa, to help promote the cause,” he says. ( Now … Will ‘Ilolahia.)

“Five days after the complaint was made, all seven billboards around Auckland were taken down.”

A victory which he thinks would not have been possible without the media helping to spread the word about the campaign.

This support is in stark contrast to the media’s attitude in the 1970s, as the Panthers were known as “gangsters” and “thugs”.

“The Panthers started because we wanted to make a positive change, we were the first in the history of New Zealand to run homework centres. Yet the media would always focus on the negatives,” says the father of six.

The Polynesian Panthers, which takes its name from the Black Panthers in the United States, were formed to stop the unfair treatment of Pacific Islanders living in New Zealand during the 1970s.

Two other former Panthers joined the seminar last night – “minister of culture” Tigilau Ness, father of award-winning hip-hop singer Che Fu and recently featured on the Maori Television documentary Children of the Revolution, and “minister of supplies” Vaughan Sanft.

Ness and ‘Ilolahia entertained the seminar audience with a Panthers nostalgic song.

Today, ‘Ilolahia is chief executive of the Waiata Trust for artists, which boasts a mission statement as “change consultants”, and has been contracted as NZ representative of the Tongan Ministry of Tourism, Training, Employment, Youth and Sports.

The “colour” of today’s media has changed with different ethnic groups having access to their own radio, television and print organisations.

‘Ilolahia is concerned that some media outlets are missing the mark when it comes to serving their communities effectively, such as Radio Niu FM.

“Previously, Niu FM included news from the islands, yet now we have news bulletins that are much the same as what you’ll find on other radio stations. I’m concerned that Niu FM is losing its identity as a pan-Pacific station and is becoming more monocultural.”

“An example of this is that we’ve lost all Pacific language shows from the station and it now includes more mainstream content,” he says.

To ensure that the future of Pacific media stays Pacific, he advises young Pacific people to get into the industry.

“The power of the media is very strong and so it’s good to have people in there that will represent what’s going down.”

Pacific Media Centre director Associate Professor David Robie said: “This 1970s period was a vital slice of New Zealand history – how a group of young Polynesian idealistic activists from the inner suburbs of Grey Lynn, Ponsonby and Kingsland rose up to challenge the mainstream dawn raids debacle with positive change.

“Their brown power success then and their achievements today are legendary.”

Justis Kamu is a final-year Bachelor of Communication Studies student journalist.


  • Polynesian Panthers - Brown power
  • Polynesian Panther Party
  • Polynesian Panthers mark 35 years
  • ENDS

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