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Tariana Turia: Maori Treatment in the Media

Maori Treatment in the Media

Te Huinga National Hui for Maori Tertiary Students

Tariana Turia, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Saturday 26 August; 2.30pm; Victoria University of Wellington

Two weeks ago, a wondrous event took place in Wellington. Five kaumatua, who had demonstrated a lifetime devotion to sharing their skills and knowledge for the well-being of their communities were celebrated.

They are kaumatua who have worked tirelessly over years and generations to nurture and retain Maori arts and culture.

There was Peggy Kaua of Ngati Porou, Rakiihia Tau of Ngai Tahu, Sophie Keefe of Ngati Kahungunu, Henare Kingi of Ngapuhi and my cousin Rangitihi Tahuparae. Also honoured, post-humously, with the award, Te Tohu Aroha mo Ngoi Kumeroa Pewhairangi, was Te Aopeehi Kara, of Tainui and Ngati Kahungunu.

If that wasn’t enough, Robyn Bargh of Huia Publications, was recognised for her distinctive contribution to Maori literature; and Cameron Webster and Anna-Marie White were awarded Te Waka Toi scholarships for the promise and commitment they displayed.

A most exciting and inspirational event.

And the local paper dedicated a couple of sentences submerged in a side column, the column where afterthoughts and postscripts are normally found.

But should we be surprised? That is how Maori normally feature in mainstream media.

Indeed, a study on Maori and the media undertaken in 2004, found that newspaper and television are unbalanced in their treatment of tangata whenua. That study revealed that only a minority of newspapers, as well as television programmes, included themes relevant to Maori.

In general, the study reported that “bad” news about Maori predominated over “good” news.

In another paper, ‘Maori, crime and the media - the association of Maori with crime through media eyes’, Craig Coxhead describes a front page in the Waikato Times which had run in April 1999, headed, ‘Warning: this man kills’.

The article then proceeds to describe the type of profile associated with the type of man most likely to kill you on Waikato roads.

The profile read: Maori, early 20s, Job- none; older model car. Under the headline was a mugshot of a young Maori male.

Although that same paper ran an article two days later (and on page three) admitting their story had been misleading and incorrect, the damage had been done.

But the example of media racism presented by Coxhead is not an isolated incident. When the United Nations Special Rapporteur visited Aotearoa last year, he noted the ‘systematic negative description of Maori in media coverage’ as of special concern.

Amongst his findings he reported:

- Often programmes portray Maori as unfairly having benefits which are denied to others.

- Some of the most prominent media often highlight the potential or actual Maori control over significant resources as a threat to non-Maori.

- Another recurrent issue is the portrait of Maori as poor managers, either corrupt or financially incompetent.

- In some media, denigrations and insulting comments about Maori were reported.

The Special Rapporteur was, in fact, so concerned about the treatment of Maori in the media that he issued a very strong recommendation at the conclusion of his report.

That recommendation was that:

“Public media should be encouraged to provide a balanced, unbiased and non-racist picture of Maori in New Zealand society, and an independent commission should be established to monitor their performance and suggest remedial action”.

Although unsurprising, it has been disappointing to see such a strong recommendation disappear off the public radar. It may well be something that this hui wants to pick up!

I have been fascinated with the decision this week to ostracize the planet Pluto from its peers. It appears that the International Astronomical Union no longer considers Pluto a ‘classical planet’ and has redesignated it a ‘dwarf planet’.

Apparently, Pluto behaves ‘differently’ to Earth, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Neptune, Saturn, Uranus and Venus. In their wisdom, the powers that be have cast Pluto into oblivion, pushed to the margins, destined to be written about as if it was a separate, alien entity.

The similarities with the way in which Maori often appear in the public sphere have been startling.

Ian Stuart, in his paper, the Maori Public Sphere, describes it as:

“While there is an appearance of an increased awareness and discussion of cultural issues, the mainstream media, are in reality, sidelining Maori voices and controlling the political discussion in favour of the dominant culture. They are therefore not fulfilling their self-assigned role of providing information for people to function within our democracy”.

Stuart argues that the reporting of issues affecting tangata whenua consistently clumps ‘all Maori’ together, insinuating that one Maori automatically speaks for all. No-one, he claims, would expect that one person can speak for all Pakeha - so the position, Pakeha, becomes the norm while the position, Maori, is marked as the outsider.

Hence we get headlines on Maori rights, Maori leaders, Maori MPs but we never see ‘Pakeha Politician creates news’; Pakeha activists; Pakeha provider in trouble.

As another example, the Hawkes Bay Today used a headline, ‘Maori want fee for Lake Taupo airspace’ to create an impression that all Maori have the same desire to own the airspace. In reality, it was referring to a particular claim by Ngati Tuwharetoa - and whether or not ‘all Maori’ had been involved in the debate was effectively sidelined.

Or in mainstream television and radio, Maori reporters are often set up to provide the ‘Maori perspective’ on a situation, when in reality it is extremely unlikely that there will be a Maori consensus.

The challenge before all players of the media - those in front of it, and those behind the cameras, pens and wordprocessors - is how do we achieve that all important goal, of providing accurate, responsible and full information, for people to be able to function?

Dr Ranginui Walker has shared some ideas which are a good starting point. He wrote, in 2002:

“The Maori agenda of politicisation and struggle against historic injustices is, in Freire’s terms, an act of liberating not only themselves but their oppressors as well. The aim is to get those entrusted with power over the lives of Maori to act justly as promised under the Treaty of Waitangi”.

So how can we persuade the owners, the editors, the production teams, the directors, the journalists, the reporters, the publishers to ‘act justly’ in their use of power?

One factor, of course, is the unique capacity of Maori news and Maori newsmakers to demonstrate understanding and sensitivity to Maori realities and values.

The New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority, in their 2005 publication, The Portrayal of Maori and Te Ao Maori in Broadcasting, described some distinctive differences in both mainstream and by Maori for Maori programmes with the style of Maori journalists. They described these differences as particularly noticeable in the reo Maori television broadcasts:

- In-depth knowledge in many cases of te reo, tikanga and te ao Maori;

- A mostly respectful and courteous manner;

- The use of colloquial expressions in English;

- The use of humour.

It should not, however, be left up to Maori reporters to ensure that Maori voices can be heard in mainstream or Maori media coverage.

Dialogue can also be opened up within the wider community to hold up a clearer and truer representation of the diversity in our society. As an example, I have been impressed by some of our regional newspapers, papers like the Gisborne Herald and the Whanganui Chronicle, for the way in which they enable Maori commentators to have a legitimate voice in their own right.

Take as a recent example, an article in yesterday’s Gisborne Herald by Dr Apirana Mahuika, which articulated different views he sought to relay regarding the relationship between Ngati Porou and the Kingitanga.

The coverage of the recent tangihanga of Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu was another case where I believe the media tried very hard to build awareness and to ensure more balance in their coverage of a historic event in the history of this nation.

The poroporoaki of Simon Dallow on television news coverage; the unique broadcast with the expertise of veteran broadcaster Derek Fox, the skilled professionalism of Julian Wilcox, the historical analysis provided by Emeritus Professor James Ritchie and the incredible depth of knowledge shared by Tainui kuia Mamae Takerei, were just some of the moments in the last fortnight where I have experienced hope in the representations made through media.

Finally, as an aside, I have been amused by the number of comments that have come into my office after my recent ‘high profile’ appearance on the Spelling Bee programme. People have been somewhat incredulous to learn I have a sense of humour - and that there’s other sides to me than the one they may have seen flashed across their screens. Whereas for anyone who knows me, they know there is much more to me than what is shown on the 6 o’clock news!

Next month, the General Assembly of the United Nations will be considering the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. I want to share just two parts of that Declaration which, when endorsed by the UN, will change all our lives for the better.

Article 16 reads:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to establish their own media in their own languages and to have access to all forms of non-indigenous media without discrimination.

2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that State owned media duly reflect indigenous cultural diversity. States, without prejudice to ensuring full freedom of expression, should encourage privately owned media to adequately reflect indigenous cultural diversity.

I want to leave the last words to two young Maori women, who starred in the Inside Out documentary,Hikoi; a documentary remarkable for the way in which it reframed the legitimacy of Maori perspectives and positions on mainstream television.

In the closing sequences, the shots of the hikoi are interspersed with a photograph, and therefore the spirit, of kuia Whina Cooper:

Tere Harrison: “Nobody can agree how many marched that day. What was clear was their unity”.

Te Whenua Harawira: “Every person that was there represented another who couldn’t make it”.

Tere: “For many of them it was the first time they’d ever done anything like this. This wasn’t a bunch of haters and wreckers but a tidal wave of proud people”.

Te Whenua: “And I think everyone came with the understanding that even if we couldn’t stop the legislation, our objections would go down in history”.

A tidal wave of proud people: now that’s hope, representation, and legitimacy all rolled up in one! That sort of treatment of Maori in the media I can definitely live with.

Tena tatou.


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