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. By 1862 Māori began publishing 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 Māori tribal, pan-tribal and religious groups, 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. From the early 20th century Māori-language newspapers went into decline.
Politics and colonial newspapers
New Zealand’s earliest newspapers were often established to advance their proprietors’ political interests. Some aspiring politicians set up papers to promote their careers. At least 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 the Press in 1861. Ballance managed and edited the Wanganui Herald from 1867, while Vogel established the first New Zealand daily, the Otago Daily Times, in 1861.
Papers such as Christchurch’s 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 tended openly backed particular politicians. During the provincial era (1853–76), papers were also strong promoters of the interests of their own provinces. Most provincial centres had at least two papers – one supporting the government and the other the opposition.
The emergence of daily newspapers in the 1860s meant 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 new Liberal government. Wellington’s Dominion, on its foundation in 1907, declared itself opposed to all forms of socialism, including the ‘state socialism’ of the Liberal government. The Dominion supported the opposition Reform Party of William Massey. Editorials in Auckland’s New Zealand Herald tended to be strongly biased in favour of the National Party until 1969, by which time 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 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, although it 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 was deeply suspicious of the newspapers, while appreciating the power of radio. He feared that newspaper companies would also come to dominate broadcasting. Labour introduced the Broadcasting Act 1936, placing broadcasting under direct government control through the National Broadcasting Service. Radio news was to be 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 Parliament’s activities without any slant from newspaper reporting.
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, the public perception of political bias within the media remained widespread.
Māori have consistently been under-represented in the mainstream English-language media, with repeated accusations of anti-Māori bias levelled at the mainstream 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 Black rugby team to South Africa without Māori players. This campaign received extensive coverage in the print media and was mentioned in English-language radio broadcasts. Despite the relevance to his audience, Māori broadcaster Wiremu Parker was forbidden 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 war bulletin. 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 (MTS) was established by statute in 2003. Its primary goal was to revitalise and promote the Māori language. An important role of Māori radio and television is to provide news and political comment from Māori perspectives.