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Media reporting of the Treaty and Maori issues

Kupu Taea report on newspaper and TV news reporting of the Treaty and Maori issues

Tuesday 20 May, 2008

Kupu Taea released its second report on Sunday May 18 about how newspapers and television news represented the Treaty of Waitangi and Maori issues in February and March of 2007. A 4-page summary and the 54-page report is available from www.trc.org.nz/resources/media.htm, as is our Media Consumers’ Checklist for media consumers who want to take some action about negative news media portrayals of Maori.

Some of our conclusions:


Mass TV news programmes (One News, 3 News, Prime News) talked of unity in their Waitangi Day coverage in a way that silenced Māori rights and aspirations. Māori TV news programmes (Te Kaea and Te Karere) talked of unity in diversity and assumed that the fight for Māori rights and aspirations is a necessity and is not divisive or unjustified. The opposite assumption prevailed on mass news.


Newspapers used the terms “radical” and “activist” overwhelming about Māori, and journalists used these terms mostly rather than sources. The imbalance in these terms indicates an overall conservative viewpoint on Māori resource issues and a lack of alternative frames for these stories.


Māori focus group members regularly faced hostile reactions at work from Pākehā workmates that were directly related to negative media depictions of Māori and Treaty issues. Members found these depictions to be damaging to Māori health and wellbeing and reinforcing of negative Pākehā perceptions of Māori.


Te Kaea and Te Karere used different frames for stories, used fewer politicians as sources and a much wider range of Maori sources than mass TV news. Maori programmes allowed sources to speak for longer, and used a less confrontational approach. Overall, they demonstrated the monocultural nature of the news values which mass TV news programmes have long stated to be universal.


Newspapers quoted twice as many Māori men as women and three or more times as many Pākehā men as women in our 2007 and 2004 samples. With our 2007 TV results, this indicates a possible greater role for women as spokespeople in the Māori world compared to the Pākehā one.


Mass media items continued to provide little or no background explanation or context about the Treaty or Māori issues.


The proportion of newspaper Māori stories using words of te reo Maori for which there were English alternatives (half) and the average number of Māori words per item (two) was the same as in our 2004 sample, a clear indicator of its low priority.


Journalists aspire to be a watchdog for all citizens and sceptical about everything, particularly the statements of the powerful. However, our representative samples in 2004 and 2007 indicate that the mass media acts as a watchdog for Pākehā interests and is rarely sceptical of Pākehā initiatives that breach the Treaty. Instead, it is sceptical of Treaty-based initiatives or points of view.


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