15 Sep 2019

Time to bring back RNZ's te reo Māori news?

From Mediawatch, 9:05 am on 15 September 2019

The mainstream media is embracing te reo Māori like never before but for fluent te reo Māori speakers things have gone backwards on RNZ since Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori first launched in 1975.

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Photo: Screenshot: TVNZ

There's an archival clip of Whai Ngata reading the Māori news on Radio New Zealand from 1978 that illustrates even to  non te reo Māori speakers, like me, what was lost when RNZ decided to scrap the nightly Māori news back in 1999.

The  news bulletin begins with the crashing and banging of the police moving in to arrest the occupiers of Bastion Point before you hear: "This is the Māori news read by Whai Ngata....". Then the report begins in te reo - a beautifully articulated and fast delivery of what is plainly a dramatic story."

Eleven years later when the decision was taken to discontinue the Māori news the New Zealand Māori Council and Māori (and Welsh) language advocates lobbied the government to change its position pointing out there was huge symbolic value in having a Māori language news bulletin on the national radio network.

Two current affairs programmes in te reo Māori had also been canned earlier in the decade.

Then at the end of 2010 RNZ pulled its last reo language programme -  He Rou Rou – a daily five minute interview with a fluent speaker of te reo by journalist Ana Tapiata.

As far back as 1942 the NZBC had a 10-minute news programme in te reo every week.

Australia’s ABC and Canada’s CBC both run daily news bulletins in their indigenous languages.

In its 2017 statement of performance expectations RNZ made it clear that its Māori language strategy was normalising te reo in its general content but it also committed itself to hosting a daily te reo news bulletin – produced by an outside Māori broadcaster -  on its website by June of 2018 –that deadline has been and gone.

RNZ Māori Strategy manager Shannon Haunui-Thompson told Mediawatch the plan has been put on hold until the outcome of the government’s Māori Media Sector review is completed.

At this stage RNZ has no plans for any te reo only programming on air.

New Zealanders are embracing te reo in their thousands and that is being reflected in its increased use in New Zealand English but for fluent speakers of te reo there's few opportunities in the mainstream media to hear their language spoken fluently.

Future historians will be able to listen to RNZ's coverage of Bastion Point in te reo Māori - but not Ihumātao. That does not seem like progress.