Mar 12, 2015

On the role of criticism: Te Matatini

So this happened. Via Te Manu Korihi:

“The Tainui group, Te Iti Kahurangi, took to the national Te Matatini kapa haka stage last week and performed a haka which challenged the way [Māori Television] covered Maori issues.

After the performance, its kaitataki tane Kingi Kiriona, [a former Te Karere reporter], questioned how Māori Television covered stories.

He suggested that the station should be doing more uplifting stories about tangata whenua rather than negative stories about them”.

There is a very basic problem here: Kiriona and Te Iti Kahurangi are confusing negativity with accountability. Māori Television – and Native Affairs in particular – do the latter. The investigations into the Kōhanga Reo National Trust were not designed to undermine Māori, but to expose wrongdoing. We could have left it at that, but then this happened:

“Waikato-Tainui said an initial decision by Māori Television to not show the haka performance was censorship.

Te Arataura o Waikato-Tainui Chairman Rahui Papa said the matter served as a reminder to protect not only the right to freedom of speech but also the age-old Māori customary practice to openly discuss and debate issues.

He said the censoring of Te Iti Kahurangi not only impinged freedom of speech but did not align with an important tikanga that had been practised for years”.

There is another basic problem here: Te Iti Kahurangi is arguing for a double standard. While they made the case for their own freedom of speech, their haka simultaneously made the case against Native Affair’s freedom of speech. That is not to say Māori Television’s decision to edit the haka was right, but neither was the substance of Te Iti Kahurangi’s criticism.

If this were merely a question of form then no problem arises. Te Matatini is a proper forum for voicing criticism, as Mihi Forbes acknowledged on Waatea. Yet it is equally true that Native Affairs is a proper forum for criticism and, more importantly, accountability. To suggest, like Te Iti Kahurangi did, that criticism must take a particular form - especially a form which is not accessible to all Māori - is a kind of cultural elitism.

There seems to be some resistance to the idea that Māori Television is, well, Māori. As if Māori cannot take modernity and repurpose it. It is a rigid view which takes things Māori to mean things historical. The irony is that such a view is, in fact, ahistorical. Māori in colonial and postcolonial New Zealand have always borrowed Western systems, technology and aesthetics and then repurposed them.

This is an issue of power, as Leonie Pihama suggests. Yet the power does not lie with Native Affairs – the primary target of the haka – but with those who the haka sought to defend. Native Affairs is a show run by a team of young women with little institutional support from Maori Television (or anyone else). Who holds the power here?

The outsiders on Native Affairs or the establishment figures who they hold to account…