Kōrero: Television

Whārangi 3. Māori television

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

In its first two decades (1960–80), New Zealand television’s potential to achieve a Māori presence and voice was stifled. The overwhelming majority of television personnel were middle-class Pākehā who dominated the cultural perspectives of the programmes that were produced. When Māori did appear, it was usually as entertainers. Māori performers, including singer Prince Tui Teka and comedian Billy T. James, were included in variety shows, and most of the few programmes about Māori focused on song and dance. Songs of their forefathers (1964), Pupiri ra (a six-part series, 1970) and Taku toa (the first full-length colour film production, 1970) all fell into this category. In 1974 the Tangata whenua series (directed by Barry Barclay of Ngāti Apa) and the one-off drama Uenuku (narrated entirely in te reo Māori) showed the potential for Māori programming.

Shining stars

The Howard Morrison Quartet made the first of their many TV appearances on the first official night of television broadcasting (1 June 1960). An Auckland Star reviewer described the quartet (which had previous television experience in Melbourne) looking ‘as much at ease as on stage or in night club. They shone.’1

The 1970s surge in Māori activism included a push by the Maori Council and the Wellington-based Te Reo Maori Society for better representation of Māori on screen. Marches and a petition signed by more than 30,000 people called for support for te reo Māori.

Maori Production Unit

In 1980, TVNZ created a Maori Production Unit dedicated to making a set of Māori-language programmes. The unit also provided a training ground for Māori staff. The ‘mainstreaming’ of Māori language, news and culture that this unit’s regular programmes aimed for was all the more effective because there were only two TV channels.

Where are the Māori?

A 1978 petition calling for more Māori content on television gathered more than 25,000 signatures, and was presented to Parliament with the comment that there were more African Americans than Māori on New Zealand TV screens.

A weekly current affairs magazine, Koha (1980–89, continuing as Marae from 1990), and a daily bulletin, Te karere (1983–), were the first regular Māori-produced programmes. They aimed to nurture Māori language, culture and custom and to nourish biculturalism by offering Māori perspectives to mainstream audiences. Aired in prime time until 1990, such programmes continued in the 2000s in off-peak slots and remained important. They pioneered a distinctive style for Māori-produced TV news, and provided an initial training ground for the development of the larger range of news, current affairs and factual programmes later produced for Māori television.

From 2015 TVNZ outsourced the production of its Māori and Pacific programming, with the exception of Te karere.

Fighting for Māori television

The decision to create a separate Māori television network was preceded by a series of legal battles. The first took place in 1985, when a claim brought by Ngā Kaiwhakapūmau i te Reo (the Wellington Māori Language Board) was heard by the Waitangi Tribunal. The last was heard in 1993 by the Privy Council (then New Zealand’s highest court), which decided that promises made by the government to Māori had to be fulfilled.

Te Māngai Pāho, a Māori broadcast funding agency, was one result; another was the inclusion of programming promoting Māori language and culture as a priority for NZ On Air funding. Setting up a Māori television channel took nearly a decade. A pilot service, Aotearoa Television Network (ATN), was created in 1996, largely limited to viewers in Auckland. Insufficient public funding and related uncertainties led to ATN’s closure in 1997.

Māori Television

The most successful of the fifth Labour government’s achievements in broadcast television was the introduction of a non-commercial Māori Television Service (MTS). In stark contrast with the advertiser-funded position of TVNZ, the founding legislation of MTS (the Māori Television Service Act 2003) gave it a clear ‘public service’ remit and full public funding. Launched in 2004, Māori Television, the flagship channel of MTS, brought a profile to Māori language, culture, custom, society and history that was unprecedented in television. A second channel, Te Reo, broadcasting entirely in the Māori language, was launched in 2008.

Māori Television (officially renamed Whakaata Māori in 2022) is required to broadcast mainly in the Māori language during prime-time hours, to offer a programme mix that informs, educates and entertains, and to nurture indigenous culture, custom and language. An important marker of its public status is the high proportion (up to 70%) of local content it offers viewers. Broadcasting a full range of programming, including current affairs, documentaries, children’s programmes, light entertainment and drama, Māori Television attracts a relatively small but diverse audience.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in Robert Boyd-Bell, New Zealand television: the first 25 years. Auckland: Reed Methuen, 1985, p. 75. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Trisha Dunleavy, 'Television - Māori television', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/television/page-3 (accessed 22 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Trisha Dunleavy, i tāngia i te 22 Oct 2014