Stuff apologising for racism against Māori 'a very positive move'

8:00 pm on 30 November 2020

Stuff has been praised for owning up to perpetuating racist narratives about tangata whenua but academics have expressed scepticism that it will lead to lasting change.

Stuff's front page pledge to reeaders.

Stuff's front page pledge to reeaders. Photo: supplied

The country's largest media organisation has apologised after an internal investigation of all its publications dating back 160 years found it used racist stereotypes and marginalised Māori voices in its reporting.

Stuff's Pou Tiaki editor Carmen Parahi led the investigation and said it was tough for all 20 Stuff reporters involved who were tasked with combing through archives of all Stuff's publications.

"What we started to see also was that our writing was shaping the views of New Zealanders towards Māori and that really disturbed the journalists so it was actually a really hard personal and professional journey the reporters went on."

The Stuff investigation found that the likes of the Nelson Mail and Taranaki Herald wrote heavily slanted stories favouring the government in the early colonial period.

In some cases the accounts were even false, reporting that the invasion of Parihaka, which has now been acknowledged as one of New Zealand's darkest days, met a "peaceful end".

It also found that Stuff reporters did not even interview iwi when reporting on their land and histories, such as the absence of kōrero from Rangitāne when kōiwi were found at Wairau Bar.

Māori were often labelled "stirrers" for speaking out and taking part in protests like the Foreshore and Seabed hīkoi.

From the mid-1990s till now, 'Māori radical' was used 500 times and 'Māori activist' was used 2000 times in Stuff reporting, compared to 'Pākehā activist' which was only used 14 times.

However, Stuff editorial director Mark Stevens said it had committed to redressing these wrongs and to fostering trust with Māori.

It has launched and published a new charter committing to embedding the Treaty of Waitangi principles of partnership, participation and protection in its business.

Auckland University of Technology Māori Advancement director Ella Henry said it was a huge step forward.

"I realise that there will be many that are somewhat cynical about this about but I genuinely believe that decolonisation is an important part of New Zealanders' evolution moving forward and it is as much up to the settler, the coloniser as it is to Māori to work through what decolonisation looks and feels like and the first step as far as I'm concerned is taking responsibility for privilege, the white privilege that came with being the settler government and the settlers in the country 180 years ago.

"So I actually see this as a very positive move forward, will it play out, will the editorial commitment remain, I don't know, but it's a very good start and it's a very good standard to hold them against in the future."

Massey University academic Tim McCreaner was part of a research team back in 2004 that found the news repeatedly reinforced negative themes about Māori.

He was not convinced incorporating the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi into Stuff's charter would change its ways.

"The notion of the Treaty principles doesn't stack up against the actual commitments and requirements of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, it feels to me like they're building on foundations of sand if they're working on the Treaty principles."

There have been calls for other media outlets to do an audit of their Māori coverage, with Henry saying all media organisations needed to take responsibility for taking a eurocentric perspective on Māori problems.

However, none of the major media organisations contacted - including RNZ - committed to undertaking an internal audit.

In a statement, RNZ said it was willing to look at any steps to ensure it fulfils its obligations to Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

TVNZ said it was working on a Māori strategy to reflect Māori perspectives, language and culture across its organisation.

NZME said it had begun to face up to its reporting of Māori by publishing a column in June this year which explored the fact it had not properly examined how racism played a role in the organisation.

It said it had since appointed a new head of diversity.

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