21 Jun 2020

Māori media rejig creates confusion, meets resistance

From Mediawatch, 9:10 am on 21 June 2020

A long-awaited report on the future of Māori media proposes a ‘one-stop-shop’ for Māori news based at Māori Television. 

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Photo: screenshot

It’s been widely opposed by journalists, but as consultation begins the government says critics have got it wrong. Who's right?  

The ‘Māori Media Sector Shift’ was fired up in late 2018 by Te Puni Kōkiri to revamp publicly-funded Māori media. When the report Te Ao Pāpāho Māori He Ara Hou came out last week many in the sector were not happy with one aspect in particular. 

The report said Te Māngai Pāho currently funds a number of Māori  news services – and “this is not sustainable“.

Minister for Māori Development Nanaia Mahuta stated: 

“I propose that a single Māori news service be located within the Māori Television Service”

Currently the Māori broadcasting funding agency, Te Māngai Pāho, funds news and current affairs on Māori Television, as well as shows for other broadcasters, such as Three’s weekly show The Hui and long-running programmes for TVNZ, such as Te Karere, Waka Huia and Marae. Te Māngai Pāho also funds Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori - which oversees 20 iwi radio stations around the country. 

Last week, TVNZ’s commissioning consultant of Māori and Pacific programmes Nevak Rogers told RNZ the ‘one stop shop’ proposal was a shock to her

But even before the Māori Media Sector Shift began in 2018, Te Māngai Pāho had suggested funding fewer news shows and newsrooms, so better resourced ones could be seen and heard across the Māori media.

Back then Nevak Rogers seemed keen on it. 

In a piece for online site E Tangata - she hoped the review would confront “problems festering away for 25 years or more” - and she told Mediawatch a ‘powerhouse’ was a good idea. 

This week, her message was different.  

"There has been a lot of talk of plurality of voice and how important that is,“ she said. "And yet here we are looking to go in the opposite direction," she told RNZ

Rogers was among several Māori  journalists making that point last week 

Some of the most fervent criticism came from Mihingarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee-Mather of The Hui, co-funded by Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air.

In a column for Stuff, Forbes compared the current Māori media setup to whaikorero on a marae, where speakers build on each other’s ideas.

She asked why the government has given a $50 million bailout to ensure plurality of voice in public and commercial news companies, but hasn’t taken the same approach to Māori media.

“Having successfully ensured the mainstream media choir is in full voice, the government then proposes garrotting Māori journalism in favour of Māori Television performing solo," she wrote.

Lee-Mather told RNZ that Māori deserve the same service and diversity of opinion as tauiwi, and a single news service would make that impossible.

“[It] assumes that all our interests, our whakaaro, our lenses are the same and they are not," she said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told political reporters that critics has “misinterpreted” the Te Puni Kōkiri report. She reminded reporters this was merely a proposal for consultation.  

This week, consultation got underway with online hui.hosted by Te Puni Kōkiri. On Thursday, officials seemed to say all the media's fears were all based on a misunderstanding.

Daran Ponter, who served as a specialist advisor to the Ministry, said news services, such as The Hui and Te Karere, were not at risk from the draft review.

He gave more detail on how a “clearing house” would work, saying the proposed single Māori news service was meant to enable content sharing, rather than eliminate newsrooms.

"It is a clearing house where entities that are creating news would share it for use by the rest of the ecosystem.” he said. 

“That could have been clearer  -- mea culpa. As far we can understand from ministers, the idea is clearing house - not one news operation."

Lee-Mather told Mediawatch that seemed to clash with the wording in the Māori media sector review itself.

In the preamble to its proposal for a single Māori news service, the review says “there are too many Māori media outlets”, and funding them all through Te Māngai Paho “is not sustainable”.

“To me [that] seemed pretty clear,” Lee-Mather said. “I’m not sure whether this represents a genuine misrepresentation of the intent or actually what we’re seeing is a little bit of a turnaround following the opposition and concern that we’ve seen over the last week.”

Forbes noted that many experienced people in Māori media had the same interpretation of the document as her and Lee-Mather.

“It is a whole lot of very intelligent, well-read broadcasters who have been in the industry for 25 or 30 years who all are confused.”

Both Forbes and Lee-Mather said funding was the major obstacle facing Māori media, not the way it is organised. 

Many staff at Māori news services receive markedly lower pay than their counterparts in larger media organisations, they said. One submitter to Thursday’s online hui said the starting salary for a reporter in Māori media was $30,000. 

Those inequities were particularly hard to stomach in light of the $50 million bailout given to commercial news services, which were still mostly staffed by Pākehā, Forbes said.

She called for Māori news providers to be given extra money and certainty year-to-year, rather than having to repeatedly apply for contestable funding.

“We know there’s money in the kitty,” Forbes said. “So many of our young people don’t get paid. It’s just not the same as mainstream. There’s just not enough to go round.”

Lee-Mather also lamented that the report did not seem to address fundamental questions about the future of media. 

Like other groups, Māori audiences are increasingly getting their news from social media and consuming content on streaming sites, such as YouTube.

The government could be mulling the question of whether the money it invested in Māori TV could be better spent elsewhere, Lee-Mather said. 

“In my mind this review was an opportunity to ask ourselves some of the really difficult questions, like ‘is a linear television station the best vehicle for revitalising te reo, normalising te reo, providing news and entertainment and content to Māori audiences, or is it time to look at a different model?’. Do we let go of the linear model and all of the massive production costs that involves and spread the money around?” she said.

Despite being developed over three years, Te Puni Kōkiri’s review did not fully address that fundamental, existential question for some Māori media outlets, she said.

Lee-Mather said that was a missed opportunity, and one that would not come up again in the near future. 

An election is looming. The government is not likely to make any further changes as it deals with the Covid-19 crisis and prepares for a tough campaign. 

Just as it has been before, the question of what will happen to Māori media looks set to be kicked further down the road.