Story: Media and politics

Page 3. Māori and Pākehā media: politics and advocacy

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Māori newspapers

The earliest Māori news media were government publications such as Te Karere o Nui Tireni. They were designed to pass official information to Māori in the Māori language. From 1862 Māori published their own newspapers – the first was Te Hokioi o Nui Tireni, produced by the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement). Māori newspapers were published by a range of tribal, pan-tribal and religious groups, the latter including Pākehā missionaries. While these publications generally presented a particular political or religious point of view, they also contained correspondence, advertisements, local news, waiata, obituaries and reports of local hui. In the early 20th century, Māori-language newspapers went into decline.

Politics and colonial newspapers

Many of New Zealand’s earliest newspapers were established to advance their proprietors’ political interests. Some aspiring politicians set up papers to promote their careers. Three colonial premiers, James Edward FitzGerald, Julius Vogel and John Ballance, began their careers as newspapermen. FitzGerald was the founding editor of the Lyttelton Times in 1851 and Christchurch’s Press in 1861, Vogel established the first New Zealand daily, the Otago Daily Times, in 1861, and Ballance managed and edited the Wanganui Herald from 1867.

Papers such as the Press were funded by wealthy proprietors seeking to influence public opinion in favour of their political goals. In the days before party politics, newspapers often openly backed particular politicians. During the provincial era (1853–76), papers were also strong promoters of the interests of the provinces in which they were published. Most provincial centres had at least two papers – one supporting the provincial government of the day and the other the opposition.

The emergence of daily newspapers in the 1860s brought increases in circulation and the chance of making profits through advertising. While papers became more commercial, many retained distinct political biases. The Lyttelton Times, under the editorship of William Pember Reeves, strongly supported the Liberal Party. Reeves became one of the most prominent ministers in the Liberal government. Wellington’s Dominion, on its foundation in 1907, declared itself opposed to all forms of socialism, including the ‘state socialism’ of the Liberals. The Dominion supported the opposition Reform Party led by William Massey. Editorials in Auckland’s New Zealand Herald tended to be strongly biased in favour of the National Party until 1969, when its editorial writers stopped regarding the Labour Party as socialist.

A representative in the fourth estate

The belief that their views were not being represented prompted some groups to establish their own newspapers. Bishop Patrick Moran set up the New Zealand Tablet in 1873 to air the Catholic Church’s views on education. The Tablet provided a forum to promote Catholic, particularly Irish Catholic, views of current events. In 1910, militant unions established the Maoriland Worker to balance the perceived bias of the capitalist press. The paper began as a forum for a wide range of left-wing opinions, but eventually became a Labour Party newspaper. The Labour Party also managed the Grey River Argus from 1919 to 1966 and the Southern Cross (a Wellington daily) from 1946 to 1951.

Government control of broadcasting

Most New Zealand newspapers were strongly critical of the Labour Party before it took office in 1935. Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage appreciated the power of radio but was deeply suspicious of the newspaper companies, which he feared would come to dominate broadcasting. Labour introduced the Broadcasting Act 1936, which placed broadcasting under direct government control through the National Broadcasting Service. Radio news was now supplied by the Official News Service in the Prime Minister’s Department. Labour also introduced the world’s first regular parliamentary broadcasts, with the aim of giving people direct access to debates before the press could put a slant on them.

Bias in the modern media

Broadcasting has not been directly controlled by the government since 1961, when control of broadcasting passed from the minister of broadcasting to a government-appointed board. Newspapers have become less openly partisan. Despite these changes, public perception of political bias within the media remained widespread.

Māori voice

Māori were consistently under-represented in the mainstream English-language media, with repeated accusations of anti-Māori bias levelled at newspapers and broadcasters.

Censoring the Māori news

In 1960 the ‘No Maoris, no tour’ controversy was at its height, with a campaign against sending an All Blacks rugby team with no Māori players to South Africa. This campaign received extensive coverage in the print media and was mentioned in English-language radio broadcasts. Despite its obvious relevance for his audience, broadcaster Wiremu Parker was told not to mention the debate in his Māori-language news broadcasts.

The first radio news in Māori began in 1942, in the form of a weekly bulletin of war news. Until the 1980s Māori broadcasting mostly consisted of short Māori-language news programmes on non-commercial radio and television. Following Waitangi Tribunal reports in 1986 and 1990, the government reserved a range of AM and FM frequencies for Māori broadcasters, and a number of Māori radio stations were established. The Māori Television Service (since 2022 officially known as Whakaata Māori) was established by statute in 2003. Its primary goal was to help revitalise and promote te reo Māori. Another important role of Māori radio and television is to provide news and political comment from Māori perspectives.

How to cite this page:

Kate McMillan, 'Media and politics - Māori and Pākehā media: politics and advocacy', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

Story by Kate McMillan, published 20 Jun 2012