He Whakaaro
Media Revolution

Nā Ward Kamo

The rumblings of a potential revolution in our media landscape have occurred with Stuff – the publisher of The Dominion Post, Taranaki Daily News, The Press, and a number of other regional newspapers – opening its online news coverage today (November 30 2020) with the headline: “Our Truth, Tā Mātou Pono: Over three centuries we’ve failed to represent Māori fairly.”

Stuff then issued a formal apology to Māori titled: “Nō mātou te hē: We are sorry.”

And promised to rebuild trust by saying it was adopting: “… a multicultural lens to better represent Māori and all people of Aotearoa, supported by Treaty of Waitangi principles.”

The website was then filled with articles highlighting areas where Stuff publications had fallen short reporting Māori issues since they were first established (in the 1860s for many).

Great stuff, Stuff! So what does it actually mean?

The New Zealand Media Council has 12 “principles” it believes media should adhere to. These include perhaps the most important ones of accuracy, fairness and balance. This includes the need for a fair voice given to opposition views.

Accuracy, fairness and balance. I cannot over-emphasise their importance. My rather short journalistic foray included being taught by one of the legendary newsmen of yesteryear, the craggy Colin McCrae. Not only did he demand accuracy, fairness and balance in how I undertook my media activities, he also said: “Mr Kamo, you are not the news. Be impartial and trust your audience to make their own mind up.”

And therein lies the issue for Stuff and our media in general – impartiality.

Today’s media environment is an ever growing need for ‘clicks’ on media headlines. The old adage in the media ‘if it bleeds it leads’, is an ever truer ‘truism’. And crikey do Māori ‘bleed’.

We are continuously reminded we are perpetual prisoners; we bash our kids and wives; our women smoke too much; our kids are being relentlessly removed from their homes by Darth Vader and his Oranga Tamariki stormtroopers and, of course, Ihumātao.

But how about these headlines? Māori are great parents; Māori are not really criminals; the rate of smoking is dropping among Māori populations or not all Māori support the Ihumātao occupation. Not quite so sexy – and that’s the rub. The negative portrayal gets the clicks, not the good news headline.

And then there’s the issue of who speaks for Māori. Even in Māori media the sentiment is often: “We need more Māori voices, writers, journalists … but not those Māori voices (generally to the Right of the political Centre).”

My foray into media began because “we need someone who is perhaps more right-wing in their view.” Given my views sit comfortably on the ‘damned moderate by anyone’s fair measure’ scale, that doesn’t say much does it.

You see the real issue with our media landscape isn’t that we bleed so therefore we lead. Rather it’s that we are presented as a monolith – that Māori have a (singular) Māori world view. And that world view is as follows:

Ngāi Tahu is making all that money, why can’t all the other iwi be as successful as Ngāi Tahu?; Māori are all about activism – Ihumātao is a good thing; Māori vote Labour or left-wing; the Treaty has not been honoured (nonsense, it’s being increasingly honoured – but still some way to go).

And to back up these views, there is a very small group of Māori commentators lined up to do their best to confirm this unbalanced, skewed and inaccurate portrayal of the Māori community.

Any Māori who doesn’t align with the perceived ‘world view’ is therefore a member of the alt-Right, right, contrary, ‘oh that stirrer’, group of Māori. They are often titled ‘controversial commentator add name’ (commentators to the Left of Centre are never called ‘left-wing commentator’ or ‘controversial commentator’). Alan Duff and David Rankin are two recipients of unfair, unbalanced, and inaccurate treatment by mainstream AND Māori media. I’ve sat in newsrooms and been told ‘we’re not getting that bleep bleep on’. It happens all too frequently.

If Stuff is determined to report Māori accurately then it has to ensure the following:

1. It has a reasonable number of Māori journalists
2. It has a reasonable number of Māori opinion writers
3. It understands there is no singular ‘Māori world view’
4. It doesn’t treat some Māori views as ‘alternative’ or ‘controversial’
5. It is careful to ensure that the Māori views expressed, in the absence of polling to support an opinion or position, are those of the writer, commentator or person quoted only.

Most importantly Stuff needs to avoid the growing trend towards wokeism and curbing non-populist views. This insidious philosophy has no real concern for those it deems a ‘minority’ but rather a preference for the self-perpetuation of views it deems correct.

It is heartening, therefore, to hear the current editor of The Press, Kamala Hayman, say: “No matter how conservative or defamatory, opinions would have to be pretty extreme for us not to publish, like inciting others to hatred or violence. Hurt feelings is not enough.”

Therein is captured the essence of what free media is all about – an environment where all views can be challenged, including our various Māori views. Freedom of expression isn’t just a Pākehā concept!

Our iwi hui are all about free expression. And we all know there is no tempering some of our whānau members. They will get up and say what they ‘damn well please’ and that’s OK. Our marae are bastions of free speech and expression and this aligns beautifully with Kamala Hayman’s statement.

And within Ngāi Tahu we hear similar sentiments being expressed. Tuahiwi Upoko Te Maire Tau is quoted as saying in relation to the Stuff apology: “What Māori want to see is an appreciation of their views.”

Tā Tipene O’Regan has stated there is a tendency to fail to recognise the diversity of Māori opinion and expect all Māori to have similar perspectives. Never a truer word spoken as this article attests to.

But in all this, the true significance of what Stuff has done must be acknowledged. The acceptance of their complicity in presenting Māori in such a negative light in preceding decades, their mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, is frankly, wonderful. Stuff needs to take a bow and be offered our profound (OK, ‘my’ profound – after all I don’t speak for all Māoridom) thanks for this acknowledgment. It is a significant step forward for Māoridom. I look forward to seeing the impacts of this bold and positive shift on the portrayal of our people.