Jul 5, 2012

Study reveals racism in the media

Confirming what most of us already knew, a study has revealed that the mainstream media is guilty of portraying Maori poorly. The researcher team consisted of six academics and the paper was published in the New Zealand Journal of Indigenous Scholarship. The study examined:

Television news coverage of Māori stories gathered from Te Kāea (Māori TV), TV1 (both English-language and Te Karere), TV3 and Prime during a six-month period. They looked at how many Māori stories there were, and the tone of each piece.

They found Māori stories made up less than two per cent of the news items in the English-language newscasts and the majority of these items encouraged viewers to think about Māori in terms of violence towards and abuse of babies and children in their care.

The media play a prominent role, if not the most prominent role, in encouraging and cementing negative perceptions of Maori. The stories the media tend to single out, think crime stories, do not reflect the reality for most Maori and most New Zealanders.

It should be asked, however, whether or not we can blame the media for demeaning Maori. After all, that is what the consumers want – controversy and crisis. Nothing screams controversy and crisis better than a brown man and bad behaviour. The question, therefore, is whether or not there is a problem with the media or a problem with society.

Demand for controversy and crisis means racism is a profitable industry. Consumers enjoy Maori controversy and crisis, the media responds and ratings increase, revenue growth occurs, bosses and shareholders are happy. Repeat formula.

I am also attracted to the analysis that the media is an instrument of the capitalist class and racism in the media is an attempt to divide and rule the working class.

Racism is certainly a profitable industry and the second analysis is attractive too, but I think the explanation may be a little simpler: we’re still suffering from a colonial hangover.

The consequences of this hangover are severe. The media’s portrayal of Maori threatens the progress we’ve made in race relations. It encourages antagonism, both on the part of Maori and non-Maori.

This is why Maori TV and shows like Marae Investigates are so important – they portray Maori in all their diversity and they challenge mainstream portrayals and perceptions. 

Having said that, I doubt that Maori TV, Maori radio and Marae Investigates alone are the answer to racism in the mainstream media. These initiatives are counter-weights, but not solutions by themselves. We need a cultural change in the media and in society, and until we achieve that we may keep sinking.

UPDATE: I don't think we have racist journalists. However, I think there is an underlying imperative for negative stories re Maori. Every journalist I've ever met, and I've met more than a few, was utterly professional and certainly not racist. 


  1. In a interesting twist to this I believe the Scott Guy case was covered in unbelievable depth because it involved middle class white people. There are many murders of a similar type that happen, in fact someone was sentenced in Chch the same day for a lovers revenge murder, that received almost no coverage. Of course there was no suggestion that there was something wrong with the farming lifestyle that would cause people to do such a thing.

  2. Former TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis' remarks about Police Ten 7 fulfilling the requirement for Maori content was just one example of how the One Percenters think. And it's the same in every New World colony with a sizeable 'involuntary minority'.

  3. the maori people who end up as 'victims' in racist reporting have themselves to blame - no-one asked them to commmit the crimes / get arrested - fight - kill - maim children - in the first place -- they deserve the public criticism -- what we object to is that ALL maori are tarred with the same brush - if you have got brown skin - you are invariably tagged / assumed as being a criminal or having nefarious intent - there are more to Maori people that being negatively written about in the wider mainstream media - even our so-called 'leaders' - scratch their surfaces & all the secrets behind them would fill bookshelves... Maggie & friends from Whaingaroa - pakeha here will not call it by its proper name - they call it raglan after some englishman lost a battle centuries ago - now how about that for role reversal.

    1. It is interesting you have remained conveniently anonymous.
      You are wrong, hegemonic practice by the ruling majority is to blame.
      But I understand your ignorant viewpoint. You are supposed to think the way you do and post it here. You’re a part of the machine of oppression. Anything else would be a surprise. Automatic disdain of Maori is a colonising tool. Job well done ANON. But you know what, the truth is you lose nothing by empathising with the Maori attempts to free ourselves from your debilitating programming and language. Thank you for at least acknowledging that the reporting is racist.

  4. It would be interesting to look at how much of this was also driven by the difference between public service type media (which includes almost all Maori media) and profit driven media (which is pretty much all our mainstream media). A lot of what I see on Maori Television for example, is the kind of stuff that we used to have on mainstream public telly. documentaries, its in the bag, Mister Ed(!!!), that show were they find old film archive stuff and then interview the elderly folks who were in old film footage, quality news etc

    All the mainstream channels are for profit and are full of shallow cheap rubbish, and crime stories are cheap to make. you just ring up the cops, they provide you with a story with a scumbag and a victim, you go and ask people how they fell, they cry on camera, its good dramatic stuff and the viewers at home are shocked/entertained and glad they aren't like those terrible bad people, especially if they look different. cheap nasty rubbish. they put it on at prime time and everyone watches it while they are having their dinner, so they think it must be popular.

    if we had good public service television, plus a willingness to admit that the history of this country is something more than Anzac day, and the day that Hillary dude climbed a big mountain all by himself, and we might start getting somewhere

  5. How do the researchers decide what is a Maori story?

  6. Well done with this survey, work such as this helps us continue to become more and more ourselves instead of Pakeha's version of us. Through learning, Maori are constantly evolving everyday into an amazing diverse modern culture. We know it, more and more Pakeha are realizing it and supporting our self-development. These are exciting times. No one will be able to dim the shining light that has gathered power. We are far too talented and beautiful and more and more of us are being supported by educators to realize our multiple intelligences and passionately go for our dreams as Maori. When we shine brighter, the media machine needs to focus more intently on bad things to put us back "in our place". That's how hegemony works. Pakeha have a choice to reject it. A good place to start is a book called "Understanding White Privilege" written by a white southern american Belle. Read this and you will begin to support Maori, because you will find that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Especially if you love people and use material things rather than using people and loving material things. Once again, well done with gathering evidence. It's what you do with it that counts.

  7. Good one. Any chance Maui ST can track these anön replies. Be nice to reveal who they actually are least we speculate.

  8. Social engineering there's your conclusion why maori are portrayed the way they are by the media! Assimilation- like the pakeha have done to other indigeonous cultures all over the world!



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