The future of the flagship Māori news show Te Karere is on the line as the government proposes to create a single Māori news service run by Māori Television.
Fears proposals spell the end of Te Karere
After 38 years on air, Te Karere on TVNZ1 is still the highest-rating Māori news bulletin in Aotearoa, so news this week that the government wanted to create a single Māori news service run by Māori Television came as a blow to TVNZ.
The state-owned network's general manager of local content Nevak Rogers said they met with the Te Karere team after the proposal came out.
"It was defintiely a shock," she said.
"We have our annual application for funding for Marae and for Te Karere currently with Te Mangai Paho so we are on tenterhooks here.
"We don't know what the outcomes of those decisions will be. It's pretty tense times."
The Māori media proposals have been in the works for years.
The project covers Māori broadcasting funding agency Te Māngai Pāho, Māori Television and Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori which represents 20 iwi radio stations around the country.
In the discussion document out this week - the government said some Māori media outlets struggle to generate and deliver news and that the number of Māori news services funded by Te Māngai Pāho is "not sustainable".
It wanted to see "an authorative clearing house for news and current affairs content" which would also feature content made by iwi radio stations, who would be in line for extra resourcing.
While Te Karere is aired on TVNZ, it is produced independently with funding by Te Māngai Pāho.
Rogers said she knew money was tight - each news show was made for as little as $9000 - but canning it was not the answer.
"At the moment, the public media review is happening and there has been a lot of talk of plurality of voice and how important that is.
"And yet here we are looking to go in the opposite direction."
A plurality of Māori voices
Prominent Māori journalist and producer Annabelle Lee Mather agreed.
She said the goverment had poured tens of millions of dollars into the media recently and kept talking about the need for plurality and diversity in the media.
"A single news service for Māori does not achieve that and it also assumes that all our interests, our whakaaro, our lenses are the same and they are not," she said.
"Māori audiences deserve the same service and diversity as our countrymen."
The proposal also put Mather in a stressful position.
She leads the weekly Māori current affairs show The Hui on Mediaworks channel Three and said they did not know what it meant for them either.
In any case, she said Te Karere was a legacy and should not be "thrown in the bin on the scrap heap".
"We have seen too much emphasis and importance being placed on the plurality of voice and so to accept Māori to be minimised and subordinated through one news services while everyone else enjoys a variety of news services, is just not going to, I think, be accepted," Mather said.
The government was also proposing a Centre for Media Excellence to develop staff and appoint joint members to boards of the Māori Television Service and Te Māngai Pāho.
It recommended a national radio station broadcasting in te reo Māori and making taxpayer-funded content freely available to Māori media.
Iwi media organisations could be funded to contributeas regional news bureaux with "the Māori media ecosystem" having access to all the content, the report said.
Māori Television chief executive Shane Taurima said he supported plurality in Māori media too, but the industry was under-resourced and under pressure.
"What I think is great about the proposals that have been shared is that we will see more resource and more attention given to that fact so that we can create more reo Māori speaking journalist to be able to deliver a diverse news offering," Taurima said.
A former editor of Te Karere, Taurima said he never wanted to see it go.
He did not want to jump the gun but he said if the proposal went ahead, Māori Television would be up to the challenge.
"Can Māori television deliver to expectations? Absolutely yes.
"If the decision is taken for this news hub to be placed in the hands of Māori Television, that Māori Television is supported and backed from a financial and resource perspective and from a community perspective to be able to do a good job of it."
Te Karere will not go down without a fight, however.
Rogers said if a single Māori news service was what was wanted, TVNZ hoped it could make a bid to run it too.
"I feel like we have been handed the mantle in terms of kaitiakitanga of these taonga and we need to fight as hard as we can to make sure we can maintain them," she said.
Minister urges calm and kōrero
Māori development minister Nanaia Mahuta would not say whether that was possible, but invited TVNZ to talk.
It was too early to say what funding implications the move could have on Te Karere, she said, but she hoped it would not spell the end for the news programme.
"I would hope not ... in mainstream media there is the advantage of Te Karere to link into TVNZ and there is one service through Radio New Zealand."
"TVNZ has been bailed out recently to be able to continue to do what they are doing and I am inviting them to engage in the conversation they want to have."
The central service would also use news content created in the regions by iwi radio, which would maintain a plurality of Māori voices, she said.
"In the Māori media space, there have been real challenges to ensure that we can continue to contribute to growing and revitalising te reo Māori, providing the diversity of content, but also being responsive to a quickly changing and evolving world in the media sector."
The discussion document will be open to submissions for the next fortnight.