Censorship has no place on Maori Television

The removal of the haka from the Te Iti Kahurangi performance at Te Matatini immediately raised the ire of our people. The hashtag #showthehaka emerged rapidly on Twitter and Facebook entries. Images calling for a return of the haka to its rightful place as a part of the full bracket went viral within hours. Comments flooded social media as to the inappropriateness and political censorship by Māori Television in their decision to edit out the haka.

Political censorship is something that Māori Television has long fought against. From its inception, and as a Board member in the early establishment phase for Māori Television, there has been strong advocacy for the independence of Māori Television to tell Māori stories, to challenge mainstream representations and to seek answers to critical issues facing our people. The key to doing this well, in my view, is telling Māori news, in a Māori way. The questions raised by Te Iti Kahurangi in their haka is that of whether Māori news on Māori television is being told in a Māori way. That is a question that all Māori journalists and broadcasters need to engage. When we speak of what Māori news may look like, rarely do we challenge the fundamental premise upon which the genre of News is based. For example, the idea of News being in palatable bite size chunks of 30seconds to 1 minute remains the dominant form that we see on all channels within Aotearoa. There is little movement away from the dominant established western forms of what counts as News and how News is told.

One major criticism of Māori television News is its persistence with reporting about itself and for utilising its own news programme ‘Te Kaea’ to tell stories about itself, often to defend itself. We have seen this exact issue arise in regards to Te Iti Kahurangi. Not only is the News constructed in ways that minimise the voice of the kapa but also there is a clear privileged position of Māori Television to respond to criticisms of its approach through utilising its own broadcast platform. This is not to say that Māori Television can not make comment, the issue is when it utilises its position of being in control of a national television channel to privilege its own views and responses. This is not the first time that Te Kaea has been ‘used’ by Māori Television management in such a manner.

Another criticism is the inability of Māori Television to apologise in meaningful ways when they are wrong. Accusations against a number of Māori people that have been aired upon Māori Television and then found to be incorrect or misinformed are rarely given the same time or status of apology as the original story. I have seen firsthand people have their reputation and commitment to Te Ao Māori demeaned and belittled due to stories run on Māori Television, and when found to be wrong the channels management has been slow in coming forward, and the apology is often a very brief statement at the end of a news segment. The apology or the correction of the error is rarely given the same status as the report that has discredited a good person.

So how does this relate to the #showthehaka issue?  What it says is that Māori Television have used their ability to control the media to ‘alter’ and ‘suppress’ Māori voices that seek to challenge such behaviours and in doing so Māori Television sought to remove statements that they found to be politically objectionable. Such an action is censorship irrespective of the following view expressed by CEO Paora Maxwell on Te Kaea that “I don’t see it as censoring because we had already broadcast Te Iti Kahurangi’s performance live on Saturday as well as Sunday, so I don’t believe it was censoring.”

The definition of what constitutes censorship is exactly the type of activity that Māori Television practiced in the act of removing the haka. The danger of such behaviour is that it validates the exact form of Māori political censorship that we as Māori have been struggling against for years, and which, alongside the revitalisation of te reo Māori, was a key reason for the establishment of Māori Television. The ability of Māori Television management to make a decision to suppress the views expressed in the haka of Te Iti Kahurangi and to do so with such little awareness of the implications of such actions raises questions about the role of Māori Television to be an independent voice for our people.

The reasoning provided for such actions was reported on Te Kaea through a one to one interview with the CEO. It is noted that when asked why the haka was pulled Mr Maxwell responded,
“When I first heard the words of the haka, to me it belittled and discredited the entire efforts of Māori Television. When I listened to what they were saying, I had to consider as the CEO how it reflected on all our programmes. That was the reason.”

What is interesting about such a statement is that it affirms that when Māori Television, as a broadcaster, is called to question by members of its primary audience – that being Māori people, and Māori speakers –  it can use its editorial power to deny that voice. However, Te Iti Kahurangi do not have the power to deny voice to Māori Television. That is the unequal power relationship that exists, and that is what many commentators have referred to as a misuse of power by the channel.

What this issue has highlighted is the need for Māori Television to develop clear policies and practices in regards to how the channel uses its ability as a Broadcaster to privilege its own views and how it uses the platform as a mechanism for its own interests. We have called TVNZ and TV3 to task for this for many years and now 10 years since the establishment of Māori Television it is time for some serious discussions about Māori representation and what constitutes Kaupapa Māori approaches to news and current affairs. It is time for us to debate how we want Maori news and current affairs to be constructed and how that will meet the interests of seeking transformative outcomes for our people.  We need to have conversations about what we see as important, about what constitutes News and about how we want to represent ourselves.   Until such time as that conversation and debate is undertaken then the potential for Māori Television management to repeat such censorship will remain. So, irrespective of the Māori Television view that the “issue is over” – clearly it is not.

Leonie Pihama