Story: Māori and television – whakaata

Māori content was rare in the early years of New Zealand television, but the 2004 launch of the Māori Television Service created a dedicated channel – later complemented by a second channel – with a strong focus on Māori culture and language.

Story by Tainui Stephens
Main image: Whai Ngata interviews Pita Sharples for Te karere, 1985

Story summary

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Early years: 1960s and 1970s

In the early years of New Zealand television, Māori appeared as guest performers. The popular Howard Morrison Quartet featured in the first broadcast, on 1 June 1960. A few Māori, including Morrison, became presenters. However, Māori content was rare, and programmes were made by Pākehā.

In the 1970s a Māori protest movement arose. A petition to Parliament asked for te reo Māori (the Māori language) to be taught in schools. It increased pressure on the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation to show more Māori content. In the long term, support for te reo would pave the way for Māori television.

In 1974 the documentary series Tangata whenua, made by Māori director Barry Barclay, explored the Māori world. A few other Māori programmes were produced in the 1970s.

1980s and 1990s

While public service television declined in the 1980s, it was a time of growth in Māori production. Most Māori programmes in the early 1980s showed a Pākehā view of Māori. However, Māori were keen to make their own programmes. In 1980 Ray Waru began making the weekly programme Koha. The first daily Māori-language programme was a four-minute news bulletin, Te karere. Waka huia was a documentary series in te reo Māori recording the knowledge of elders. It began in 1987 and was still on air in 2024.

Māori programmes were often broadcast on Sunday mornings – the only time free of advertising – because Māori content was less acceptable to advertisers. However, this allowed programme makers to experiment.

In 1996 a Privy Council decision forced the government to set up the Aotearoa Television Network. However, this only lasted nine months.

Māori Television, 2000s

A government-subsidised Māori Television Service (MTS) was launched in March 2004, with one channel broadcasting in both English and Māori. A second channel, broadcasting entirely in te reo Māori, was set up in 2008. 

Showing quality current affairs, documentaries and drama, the MTS channels attracted viewers, many of them Pākehā. Coverage of the 2011 Rugby World Cup and annual Anzac Day broadcasts appealed to a wide range of New Zealanders. Increasing the audience remained a challenge.

In 2022, Māori Television was officially renamed Whakaata Māori.

How to cite this page:

Tainui Stephens, 'Māori and television – whakaata', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 April 2024)

Story by Tainui Stephens, published 22 October 2014