23 Feb 2018

WWE on Māori TV? Bring it on, say Māori leaders

10:45 am on 23 February 2018

RKO, whāia nei!!!


Randy Orton performs his finisher - the RKO.

Randy Orton performs his finisher - the RKO. Photo: WWE

Māori leaders are backing Māori Television’s decision to screen professional wrestling show, WWE.

They say some criticism of the deal is misguided and borders on racism.

One-hour versions of WWE’s flagship shows “Raw” and “SmackDown” will air on the station on Saturday and Sunday evenings, beginning this weekend. A te reo Māori version of “Raw” will soon begin airing on Monday nights.

Māori Television said the deal would hopefully “attract more rangatahi viewers and urban Māori”.

“The younger viewers are typically hard to reach with their viewing habits. Much like our popular documentaries and festival films, we have a 'no free ride' policy. The idea is to bring in viewers who normally wouldn't watch Māori Television and introduce them to simple words and common phrases.”

The station added there are plans to get some WWE fighters to learn some basic Māori words. How that would be incorporated into the broadcast was not specified.

Māori TV said it was hoping for a major boost in viewers: “We are anticipating that there will a 50 percent growth on some slots.”

It would not say how much it paid WWE, but said the amount was a fraction of the cost to produce local content.

As soon as the announcement was made last week, criticism followed.

In a statement titled “Māori TV pile-drives taxpayers”, the Taxpayers Union called the deal “absurd”.

“Taxpayer money that’s meant to promote Māori culture is being sent to the US to import commercial junk. Māori Television has lost sight of the original purpose of taxpayer-funded TV, and taxpayers are now down for the count.”

This week, the Sensible Sentencing Trust also issued a press release critical of Māori Television. It was also punnily titled, “Trust slams taxpayer funding of wrestling on Māori TV.”

“The public of New Zealand aren’t interested in promoting violence but if we allow this to happen that’s exactly what we are doing,” said the trust’s spokesperson.

“According to legislation, the aim of Māori Television is to promote Māori language and culture, not to promote violence to an already violence entrenched audience.”

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox said the trust’s criticism was “ironic”.

“They wouldn’t be jumping up and down if this were aired on other networks. They’re not objecting to it on our screens, it’s because it’s Māori TV. I think this stems from their unconscious bias and view of us as a violent people,” she said.

“It is the great myth that Māori are a violent race and if we put more wrestling in front of them that’s going to continue and possibly get worse.”

Dr Rawiri Taonui, a professor of Māori and indigenous studies at Massey University, agreed: “The people who are criticising Māori TV, would be doing so anyway.”

“The trouble with this criticism that wrestling promotes violence is really typical of the Sensible Sentencing Trust and other similar Pākehā groups, which already have an overly narrow view of Māori society,” he said.

Just this morning, Newstalk ZB broadcaster Mike Hosking slammed Māori TV, though his column for the Herald was lacking in wrestling-related puns (and macrons).

“What WWE wrestling has to do with Maori culture, I have no idea. But maybe I shouldn't ask, for fear that a petition will be started accusing me of behaving insensitively,” he said.

“They will defend it by saying they're looking to run a Maori commentary. But that proves what? Nothing. They could argue that a populist programme might attract more viewers and in doing so expose them to the language. But do you really believe that? And that's before we get to the second part of this being a mistake.”

Dr Taonui said he was missing the point.

“WWE, like other physical sports is popular among young Māori audiences and the station has to balance its commercial interests with promoting te reo,” he said.

“They are trying to balance their core kaupapa of promoting te reo and Māori knowledge, while also building their audience. If they’ve got a good deal, let’s just see what happens.”

He said criticism of Māori TV has become too easy: “If we apply criteria that’s too strict we end up criticising them for not being commercially sustainable, but if we don’t, we criticise them for investing in other opportunities.”

Hosking made the point that WWE, then known as WWF, was pulled from New Zealand screens in the early-2000s, in part due to its violent nature.

“It’s social circumstances and pressures that create violence, not what people see in sport. If sport is promoted in a balanced and healthy way, it can have a positive effect,” said Dr Taonui.

Matapaepae Urwin, an announcer at Māori language radio station Te Korimako O Taranaki in New Plymouth, is one of many people who have spoken up in support of Māori TV’s decision on social media.

She told The Wireless: “This is extremely different for them, and being a sister with five brothers who have watched it, my immediate reaction was ‘wow, mean!’”

“Personally, my son wasn’t allowed to watch that stuff until I thought he was mature enough.”

The use of te reo would be key, she said.

“Regardless of what the situation is, if Māori are listening to their language, it’s great and will normalise it.”

Marama Fox said the station’s past te reo sporting content has been influential.

“We’ve also done it for League and Netball and boxing and other sports broadcasting. More Māori Language in media is a positive thing - we should be normalising it in our national lexicon,” she said.

“The station has limited resources. Obviously, we’d dearly love to see more people in New Zealand creating their own content so people aren’t just watching ‘The Real Housewives’ of every freaking country in the world.”

Additional reporting by Te Ao Māori reporter Te Aniwa Hurihanganui.