Mar 12, 2013

Native Affairs continues its ground-breaking journalism

I was really looking forward to Native Affairs’ season premiere last night, and it didn't disappoint. In comparison to the mainstream current affairs shows – it was exceptional. It was always going to be interesting to see Native Affairs post Julian Wilcox as presenter. But if last night’s show was anything to go by then they made an excellent decision to appoint Mihingarangi Forbes as the presenter of New Zealand’s best current affairs show. Even with her significant experience and talent it was going to be a big task to match up to Julian Wilcox. But in her first political interview for the show she did just that. She continued Wilcox’s practice of asking the hard questions while being respectful and she naturally brought her own style to the show.

The show began with an informative and lengthy story on Tonga’s maritime transport. It is a significant issue that I knew very little about, but as viewers we were given all sides of the story (although Foreign Affairs Minister Murry McCully didn't agree to being interviewed). There were interviews with the Tongan Minister of Infrastructure, concerned locals, the owners of the ferry companies. It became clear that the New Zealand Government had a lot to answer for. New Zealand and World Bank officials had wrote scathing reports on the safety of the Tongan ferries but at the same time have not helped the small island nation by providing the resources required to ensure safety. Our aid to the nation is being spent on upgrading the airport, which will improve tourism, but will do little to help the day to day life of Tongans. They are too poor to travel by air and so are forced onto unsafe transport. It was good to see Phil Goff in support of getting New Zealand aid focused on the issue. Hopefully this story will push the Government to help the Tongans.

Then there was a wonderful story on Tame Iti’s return home. It was so good to see him at home with his family, and especially with his mokopuna. In my opinion, the defaming of the people of Te Urewera as terrorists and the imprisonment of Tame and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara have been some of the greatest injustices in 21st Century New Zealand. And still Tuhoe and the whānau of Ruātoki haven’t received any kind of an apology for what was a disgusting abuse of state power.

And then we had Mihingarangi Forbes’ interview with David Shearer about his goal to win the back the Māori seats. I was especially pleased to see that Native Affairs were going to do this interview because I had some concerns after David Shearer's reshuffle that he wasn't doing enough to promote Māori talent, and I blogged about it last week. Forbes asked pretty much all the questions that I was eager to hear the answer to. While Shearer said a few good things, he didn't really answer any of the questions directly and he didn't set out any plan or vision for the way forward. He did say that he was looking to get more young Māori and more wāhine Māori selected as candidates, which will be really positive if he can see it through. He mentioned that his housing, health and education policies would be popular with Māori but he didn't announce any particular initiatives aimed at Māori communities. It would have been good to hear what he would do differently to the National/Māori Party Government on job creation, as he mentioned that 25% of young Māori aren't in education or employment  It was positive to hear that he intends to genuinely work with the Mana and Māori parties. Overall, I wasn't convinced by Shearer’s interview, especially with his inability to address that fact that he has only two Māori MPs in his shadow cabinet. But at least he's engaging and it seems that hes looking at strategies for moving forward. 

It would be good to find out in a subsequent interview with Shearer whether he will repeal the Takutai Moana Act. The Act, which was supported by the Māori Party, repeated many of the same injustices of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004. The inferiority of customary title in relation to freehold title is racism in our law and as it stands the Act constitutes modern day raupatu. Just last week Metiria Turei said on Radio Waatea that she's keen to repeal that Act. If Shearer wants to win back all the Māori seats, then committing to repealing the Takutai Moana Act would be a good place to start.

I really enjoyed Native Affairs last night. There were also good stories on the North Island drought and Te Matatini star Jeff Ruha. With a season premiere like that, we have a lot to look forward to this year. The full show can be viewed on the Native Affairs website or individual stories can be on viewed on their Facebook page

I think we would all be doing better if our Māori MPs were more like our Māori journalists!


  1. I thought Native Affairs was very good too. I don't think it's so much they're doing anything 'groundbreaking'. Rather, they're simply practicing darn good journalism - something which NZ television hasn't seen in a long time.

    I enjoyed the Tongan ferry story too. However the glaring question which I think should have been asked was, "Why isn't the Tongan government addressing this problem?". After all, they are the sovereign government of Tonga - and there have been many stories down the years about the wealth of the royal family. I think that particular issue was missing in this story. The NZ aid / humanitarian interest angle was interesting. But I would have liked to have heard more from the Tongan government about what they are doing to take care of their own citizens.

    That story about Tame Iti was simply superb. Why? Because it revealed the humanity of the man and his whanau - something which Maori have always known about him and te uri o Ngai Tuhoe -but which very few outside of Te Ao Maori have ever known.

    Unfortunately (perhaps) for Maori media this story highlighted and stood up the very thoughtless way a TVNZ Maori programme conducted an interview with Tame Iti a couple of weeks ago. A short hurried interview, with the poor presenter being barked at by his producers down his earpiece to shoot any old random question at Tame Iti - at least that's what it looked like on camera. Very poor indeed. TVNZ have plenty of mahi to do.

    But back to Native Affairs. Mihingarangi Forbes is coming into her own as a journalist and presenter. Her delivery off the autocue seemed perhaps a little slow - but that's no big deal. Like a fine wine, she'll get better. Her interview style was quite subtle, which judging by her reporting style on Campbell Live was quite surprising. More surprises like that please. How she presented herself and the show she's now representing? Polished, professional and screaming substance. Ka mau te wehi.

    The farming story I think reveals the power of the Native Affairs production team and its command and control of the editorial behind the camera. That was a timely story - right "in the hole". It contrasted significantly with the Tongan ferry story - a Maori farmer indicating he wasn't too fussed about not receiving and government drought assistance versus the Tongans wanting the NZ government to help them. I highlight this because I think it reflects just how diverse opinion can be amongst Maori and Pasifika people towards the roles of their leadership. Native Affairs' producers and editors did a great job in ensuring that diversity is expressed throughout the episode for viewers to absorb.

    As for the light story at the end, a perfect way to wrap up the 60 minutes. I have long enjoyed the performances of Te Whanau-a-Apanui at many festivals. But this year's festival was the first time I had ever seen or heard of Jeff Ruha. Annabelle Lee Harris' story revealed so much about this young man which is truly inspiring. I note the use of the word 'hako' by Jeff. I understand some people interpret this as 'clown' in a somewhat negative sense.

    Well, clowns have a proud tradition in human societies dating back several millennia all the way to the first civilisations in the Middle East. They were the soothsayers of society, reminding people of the goodness in life and to beware of danger and keep you and your family safe. I think that's not a bad description for Jeff Ruha. Looking forward to see what he does at Te Matatini 2015.

  2. Hmm. I think we'd all being doing a lot better if our Maori MPs were like our journalists - seriously? You have some good analysis generally, but this is a shocker bro. They're as bad as each other, egos, profiles, coverage, spin.

    1. I think Jack has point. IMHO, our journalists are more consistent and more incisive than many, if not most, Maori MPs in Parliament.

    2. On that point about Maori journalists. I think it's necessary to distinguish between journalists in the non-commercial Maori media (iwi radio, Maori-owned print, MTS) and Maori journalists working for publicly-funded Maori-content programmes within commercial media outlets (TVNZ for example - I know it's govt-owned, that's how complex-ridden they are).

      The hard-working Maori journalists at TVNZ for example, do it really hard. So many stakeholders inside and outside TVNZ always push and pull at editorial control. It's hard to be consistent. On the one hand you could say it demonstrates how dynamic the commercial environment is and how companies like TVNZ want to squeeze every dollar possible, even out of traditional non-commercial timeslots. On the other hand you could say forces outside TVNZ have a strong emotional tie to many of the Maori programmes they make. They have a sense of ownership - and want to protect the mita of those programmes as much as possible.

      In an environment like that it's not easy for producers to make content that satisfies every stakeholder, let alone viewers.

      The great thing you could possibly say about MTS is they don't have to place so much emphasis on commercial realities. Correct me if I am wrong but I don't think there's any statutory stipulation for MTS to make a profit. I would imagine from the poiint of view of production that's awesome - less pressure on the bottom line, more freedom to concentrate on producing quality storytelling consistently. Which they are doing in spades.

    3. Very good points, anon. Even with commercial and editorial pressures, Maori journalists at TVNZ do remarkably well. Marae Investigates is solid content wise, Te Karere is too (well, it runs hot and cold) and Waka Huia is always interesting.

      (On that note Te Kaea is exceptional - it beats Te Karere hands down I think).

    4. I agree Morgan. Te Kaea screams legitimacy as a daily news bulletin. Just like Native Affairs, it has consistency running through it.

      Marae Investigates I think suffers from an identity problem. It's name gives viewers the expectation their content will be serious hardcore current affairs.

      Instead you're not sure what you're going to get - a light profile story at the top (where there should be a hard story), a hurried studio interview which is so brief there's hardly any substance, an in-house commentator brought in to play the protagonist etc. Then sometimes you might have two presenters or one etc. Most important - there seems to be very little in-depth investigation going on in their stories - or at least the treatment of them doesn't appear to have much investigation.

      One other issue which I think impacts hugely on Maori Investigates might be te reo maori. Much of their content is bilingual and when it is, it's narrated in te reo with subtitles. That cannot be easy to produce. The practical process of scriptwriting then translating (if they do translate - i'm assuming they do) and then subtitling I am certain is a huge workload already added to the existing normal story production workflow. That will impact on editorial as well.

      IMHO all these issues are regrettable. It's a shame because the last thing Maori media want is a weakened presence within TVNZ. More high quality Maori current affairs shows the better. Last thing you want is a situation like in print - where the Herald for the last 20 years has had no serious competition in Auckland. Everything is now seen through a middle-of-the-road lense with few other alternative voices.

  3. Why should NZ take responsibilities for Tongan ferries. We have never had strong ties to Tonga, other than there being a lot of Tongans living in NZ. If it had been about Samoa, Cook Islands, Niue or Tokelau I would have had more sympathy, as we have always had stronger links with them, through our colonial responsibilities. Sure, I believe their ferries should be safe and sea-worthy but perhaps the Tongan Government and their Royal family need to take more responsibility and allocate appropriate resourcing from their budget.

    1. I agree Anonymous. The role of the Tongan government was missing from that story.



1. Anonymous comments will be rejected. Please use your real name or a pseudonym/moniker/etc...
2. No personal abuse. Defamatory comments will be rejected.
3. I'll reject any comment that isn't in good taste.