Agitating for Māori on air
By the 1970s, despite improvements on earlier decades, Māori-language and Māori-interest programming by state broadcasters totalled less than 90 minutes a week. In the same period the state of the Māori language reached crisis point, as the number of fluent Māori speakers declined while relatively few younger people acquired competence in the language. Members of Victoria University of Wellington’s Te Reo Māori Society and their mentor, senior lecturer Te Kapunga (Koro) Dewes, began agitating for Māori to be spoken and heard more widely in New Zealand society, including on radio and television.
Proposed Polynesian radio station
The Te Reo Māori Society and other Māori organisations made a submission to the government’s Committee on Broadcasting, calling for a Māori radio station. In its 1973 report the committee recommended that a multicultural Polynesian (including Māori) radio station should be set up in Auckland. However, the proposal to establish Radio Polynesia was scrapped by the incoming National government in 1975.
Te Reo o Aotearoa
Instead of a separate radio station, Māori and other Pacific peoples were given a voice on air through a new unit of Radio New Zealand. Te Reo o Aotearoa, which produced Pacific Island and Māori news and magazine programmes, began broadcasting in 1978. Its programmes were broadcast in Māori and several Pacific Island languages, and were the major feature on the Pacific and Māori language landscape for a decade. Te Reo o Aotearoa was initially managed by Haare Williams and employed a number of other Māori broadcasters including Whai Ngata (Ngāti Porou) and Henare te Ua.
Te Reo o Pōneke
In 1981 Īhakara Puketapu and Iritana Tawhiwhirangi of the Māori Affairs Department set up regional language boards. The Wellington Māori Language Board adopted the name Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo (those who make the language secure). It set up an experimental FM radio station, Te Reo o Pōneke (the voice of Wellington) for one week in August 1983. The station had no government support, although language experts such as Maaka Jones, Ruka Broughton and Wiremu Parker came in to help. The programming included group storytelling sessions, current-affairs discussions and Māori music, and broadcast for 12 hours a day. A similar station operated for several days during Māori Language Week in 1984.
First permanent Māori radio station
In 1987 Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo established Te Reo Irirangi o Te Upoko o Te Ika, to run for two months from May to June. Positive community and listener feedback led the board to bring the station to air permanently. It went to air on April 1988 as the first permanent Māori radio station.
Legal action over access to airwaves
In the late 1980s and 1990s Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo and the New Zealand Māori Council jointly took a number of major legal cases concerning Māori broadcasting to the Waitangi Tribunal, the High Court and the Court of Appeal, with one going as far as the Privy Council in London.