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NZ Convention Coalition Monitoring Group: Tariana Turia

Hon Tariana Turia

Minister for Disability Issues

Wednesday 7 August 2013


Launch of NZ Convention Coalition Monitoring Group Report: Media

Legislative Council Chambers and Grand Hall, Parliament

Rau rangatira ma e tau mai nei ki tenei hui, nau mai whakatau mai ki Te Whare Paremata. I would like to acknowledge our MC for this evening, Sally Wenley for doing a sterling job running our hui tonight. Tena koe Sally. I would also like to acknowledge Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson, Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem, Chair of the Convention Coalition of Disabled Peoples’ Organisations, Rachel Noble and the authors of this media report, Pam MacNeill and Chris Ford. I would also like to welcome all those from the disability community, government agency representatives, fellow Members of Parliament, families and friends, and of course the media.

This evening is an important occasion to acknowledge the work undertaken to produce the New Zealand Convention Monitoring Group Report on how those who live with disability are portrayed in the media.

Media has the power to influence our opinions and our understanding of the world. Almost everything we say and do can be reported or recorded in some way in print, on camera, voice recorder or iPhone and instantly shared around the world. The media can be our ‘watchdog’ informing us of critical issues, keeping an eye on what’s going on in government and in the community.

The media also has the power to influence the perception, attitudes, views and stereotypes about all of us – whether we are Maori, Asian or Pasifika and even if we live with disability.    In this sense, I urge us to think about the potential of the press to use their power for good – to organise and represent a transformation of thinking simply by the images they use and the words they call on for greatest impact.

The media can play a major role influencing our communities to be inclusive and accessible to all people – those who are able bodied and those who live with disability.

I am often told by those who live with disabilities that the most difficult barrier they face is the negative attitudes and behaviours of a disabling society – those attitudes  which limit their ability to participate and contribute in most areas of their lives including employment and access to public transport or buildings.

We choose, instead, a different reality – a world where everyone is valued and inclusion is the norm.

So tonight is about celebrating the release of this report and its recommendations. 

I would like to thank those media representatives who were interviewed as part of the research, some of you are here with us tonight. Your contribution and thoughtful reflections on the visibility and treatment of disabled people in the media is really valuable.

I appreciate that the news media industry is strongly driven by commercial pressures and the continual drive to appeal to readers, viewers, and listeners. The report found that disabled people feature across various sections in the print media and online. It was great to see that most stories on this sector were in the front third of the newspaper. We all know how important it is to be in the front half of the paper as people are likely to read these stories.

But the report also highlighted that much more needs to be done to be more inclusive. One of the recommendations included the need to change the way disabled people are reported in the media - to be more inclusive in media stories and not to make unnecessary reference to any impairment. 

Another recommendation highlighted the need to have more people with disabilities working in the industry not only in advisory roles but also in frontline presentation. You will all be familiar with Attitude Pictures Ltd, a New Zealand based world leading broadcaster who travels the globe to tell stories about people who live with disability.  They offer a scholarship every year to a student with a disability to study a Bachelor of Communications. Attitude is an absolutely inspirational programme and I think it should be featured at least twice a week. I love it so much. It’s a great programme.

More could be done by the media and industry training bodies to review the language they use which can sometimes reinforce negative perceptions. I encourage greater discussion between the media and the disability communities.

For those with disabilities it is simply a particular use of language that is not always respectful or as enabling as you would expect and sometimes it is about what isn’t said.   For example does a building have access for all? Are sign language interpretators  involved in all broadcasting opportunities?    We all saw during the Canterbury earthquake how effective it was to include signing in all the major announcements – I wish for a world where we could do more of this.

So it is becoming more recognised around the world that those with disabilities should be the first voice to talk and comment about matters relating to themselves. They are the experts in their experience. There are other, very valid, perspectives from professional advocacy and service providers that we must continue to involve. However, it is not ok nowadays for those to be the only voices who are doing the talking.

At the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own attitudes and behaviours towards others as individuals, and as part of families, or when with friends, and in our professional lives. We have opportunities to think about the impact of what we do and say.

The work of the Think Differently campaign has over the last three years, been supporting local and national projects to promote positive attitudes and behaviours towards those with disabilities. Also continuing is Be.Accessible, an initiative from the disability community which works with businesses to promote the value of being accessible and inclusive as well as developing leadership potential. Finally, let’s not forget the example of people with disabilities and their families who, every day, are out and about living everyday lives – despite the physical and social barriers they experience in our communities.

So I look forward to hearing about the many positive changes that will take place in the way in which the media portrays those who live with disability and disability issues as a result of this report.

I would like to leave you with the words of a legendary musician who has captured the hearts of millions of people around the world. The wonderfully talented Stevie Wonder and he once said “Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn't mean he lacks vision.”

It’s been awesome being in your company this evening. Really nice to spend time with you.

Tena ra koutou katoa.


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