Maori are rightly suspicious of mainstream media’s reporting of tangata whenua and our issues. Tere Harrison and Moana Jackson are just two of many who have written about how poorly Maori are framed in mainstream media which at best ignores us and at worst deliberately frames us in negative, even racist, terms.
So the high quality and prevalence of Maori media today gives many of us a sense of immense relief. We can now hear and see stories that we can take at face value without checking first for intentional or unintentional negative framing. Maori media has made it much easier to listen to both positive and negative stories about us because we have a high level of trust in the reporting.
Native Affairs has been described as the best current affairs program on TV because it has consistently presented the Maori paradigm in the media. It is celebrated by Maori for its investigations into and challenges of pakeha perceptions of Maori. For example, we have applauded the expose of negative policing culture on Maori, the holding of politicians to account in live interviews and the depth of the broadcast of ANZAC day.
It has also presented both positive and negative stories of Maori, stories otherwise ignored by mainstream media but highly relevant to Maori audiences. We have had uncomfortable even distressing moments. Semiramis Holland’s 2011 story on the death of Anthony Ratahi that included images of his tupapaku caused significant concern among Maori and Maori journalists. I was rung by journos asking if I thought Semi had gone too far and breached Tikanga by showing the body. I didn’t actually, it was important for the world to see the results of a police shooting – it’s not academic or just TV, its the effect of an unjust death on a whanau. But despite the concern, the program was able to be made and broadcast because of the high level of trust Maori whanau have in the Maori media to treat our issues and our people with sensitivity and openess.
Mainstream media would never have gotten so close.
So its with that in mind, that I think the Native Affairs exposé of potential misspending at the Kohanga Reo Trust and Putaka Ohanga was the right story to broadcast. I have read the criticisms of them; that it was not done in a Maori way, that it was insensitive and disrespectful, that these issues should be dealt with behind closed doors; and that this is the pakeha media approach to Maori. I join many others in rejecting this criticism.
The last is simply wrong and maybe more of an attack on the individuals on Native Affairs than the story itself. I certainly didn’t see or hear anything disrespectful in the reporting – just facts – facts that made me feel really sad and also relieved that the issues were finally out in the open and being dealt with properly.
There is nothing unMaori about confronting a misuse of power or asking questions of public figures. The open airing of issues is supposed to be a hallmark of hui and korero. We have been reluctant to expose ourselves to mainstream media and the pakeha community because we still live with the casual daily racism of a colonised country. But we do better by being open to each other than being closed. We are resilient enough to withstand the criticism because we have our own mediums to put our side. This is the quid pro quo of our own media: our own will hold us to account.
It is precisely the role of investigative journalism to open doors. It has been the opening of doors on structural discrimination and abuse of power that we applaud Native Affairs and Maori media for. And I think that it is precisely the role of Maori media to expose the harder stories about us too, to challenge and make us accountable. Who else can we trust?
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