Maori TV should be on Mainstream Channels

Gareth MorganPolitics

Gareth Morgan, Director of Gareth Morgan Investments

The Aotearoa affair confuses me. Or at least the particular focus the Press have taken on it. Sure, the antics of one Tukoroirangi Morgan have popular appeal, not the least because he is now a New Zealand First MP and it's tempting to infer that his is the code of ethics that party sponsors. That his fellow MP's Dellamere and Henare have chosen to defend his position in the face of condemning evidence clearly fuels that assumption – as does the double standard of Winston Peters' who has decided to apply different benchmark to the Morgan freeloading than he zealously pursued during the wine box affair.

The history of official obligation to the resurrection of the Maori language goes back to the mid 1980's when the Waitangi Tribunal found that governments had actively encouraged its destruction for decades. The finding was that they now had to protect the language which has been reduced to having less than the number of fluent speakers sufficient to guarantee its survival. Further it was recommended that government should not just take a passive stance of protection but needed to go on the front foot and undertake a proactive programme of promoting the language so that it does return to a sustainable state. Becoming a commonly used method of communication rather than an historical curiosity, is effectively what the government has signed up to.

The 1991 High Court decisions upheld the view that the sale of broadcasting facilities should not breach Treaty obligations. They also held that with respect to television not enough was being done to protect the language by preserving access to transmission and production sites which could enhance Maori broadcasts. Government responded by indicating that it would take the necessary steps to ensure access to TVNZ facilities occurred and it would also investigate the feasibility of separate facilities. While resort to the Privy Council by Maori didn't prevent or overturn the corporatisation of publicly owned television, it did establish that if the Crown didn't deliver on its promise to Maori broadcasting then Maori would have legal redress.

So the government is obliged to be proactive in progressing Maori broadcasting to the end of promoting the language. But herein comes a conflict. While the apparently obvious way to get television reach is to lift Maori broadcasting time on mainstream television, Maori have concerns about being forced to play second fiddle on Pakeha facilities and so have been quite keen about the concept of separate facilities – transmission and production – as well as mainstream access. Funding Agency, Te Mangai Paho was getting in to this with the pilot project at Aotearoa. All going well, it may have ended up establishing a network analogous to the regional television one.

But really, if Maori are going to achieve the deemed objective with television -promote the language and the culture, and not just to Maori but to all New Zealand, and really this seems necessary to get language usage growing again – then mainstream television seems the most economically efficient transmission alternative. Programmes to mainstream New Zealand which contain both Maori and non-Maori audio with subtitles, would be one alternative of an approach which minimises the chances of audience turn-off.

Independent facilities may well suit the independence objectives of Maori broadcasters but they're open to capture by those with quite a different objective, to simply one of promoting usage of the language. Or as has been demonstrated, open to those whose objectives are too loose, meaning economic efficiency is sacrificed. It is difficult to achieve accountability for public funding when the provider refuses to let you inspect his underpants.

In light of the magnitude of government's task in patronising Maori language to an extent that a sustainable base is resurrected, and the constraint of finite resources, the idea that Te Mangai Paho have adopted to promote independent facilities – especially transmission – is curious. It raises the question of whether it's actually been a broadcasting siding which the government has been only too happy to see Maori shunt up; a way of getting rid of a problem, rather than a well thought out government response to its obligations to Maori and Maori television broadcasting as a means of promoting the language.

The political trap of course is that government could be seen to be conspiring with a few Maori radicals who simply want control of a broadcasting empire to further political aims. This would be no way for the government to fulfill its obligations to all Maori. With claims of cultural sensitivity likely to be paraded as a barrier against conventional public accountability procedures, the independent facilities option is looking doubtful as an economically efficient means of meeting the government's obligation.

Maori TV should be on Mainstream Channels was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.