Mātauranga Māori in the Media report

Te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho | Broadcasting Standards Authority, in collaboration with The Ministry of Māori Development | Te Puni Kōkiri and Manatū Taonga | the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, engaged an AUT team led by Prof Ella Henry to undertake research exploring the appropriate use of mātauranga Māori in the media. The report draws on relevant literature on the concept of mātauranga Māori, a review of the relevant statutory and regulatory environment, and interviews with Māori media experts to offer guidance for the protection and enhancement of mātauranga Māori. 

Given the scope of the research, the report covers some areas outside BSA’s jurisdiction. This includes the recommendation of the establishment of a Māori entity (a Kāhui Mātauranga) with responsibility to work with the BSA, government agencies and Māori organisations/hapori to facilitate the protection of mātauranga Māori. These recommendations will be considered by other government entities. 

We encourage reading the full report for a broader understanding of the issues and context for its conclusions. However, content likely to be of most assistance to broadcasters is summarised below. 

Full report available for download here: Mātauranga Māori in the Media report.

What is mātauranga Māori?  

Mātauranga Māori has been variously defined (eg as ‘Māori knowledge’ or as ‘a philosophy of science’). The report observes: 

…mātauranga can be seen as knowledge held by the individual or the community that is steeped in ancient wisdom and tradition. It can be seen as both the body of knowledge, and the process by which it is protected, shared, and held across the temporal and the spatial.   

Why is it important?  

By continuing to embrace mātauranga Māori, the broadcasting sector can foster a more inclusive, diverse and representative environment. This commitment is essential to ensuring Māori perspectives are valued and accurately portrayed in the media landscape.  

As one interviewee said, ‘if we have good practice, it means that our people are prosperous, that our people are leading and driving those decisions, that the taonga are recognized, and held and stored for future generations, and that ultimately, we are good ancestors, working with each other in a way that is supportive of our own uniqueness.’  

Media’s role in negative stereotyping  

Media play a role in defining Pākehā perceptions of Māori. The report examines studies documenting issues of racism in the media, both historical and current, including: 

  • examples of ‘sensationalist’ media framing of mild protest activity and ‘Māori-bashing’ through coverage of gangs and decisions by Māori politicians 
  • examples of English-language broadcasters prioritising negative stories about Māori and, in the limited number of stories featuring Māori, promoting a narrative of Māori as inadequate and poorly socialised 
  • examples of differential reporting around Māori and Pākehā women offenders with Māori women ‘demonised’ and Pākehā women seen in a more positive light (leaving the incorrect impression Pākehā women commit mainly non-violent crimes) 
  • a study examining:
    …the amnesia of the mainstream (that is, chosen ignorance of historical violence) as a way of establishing settler legitimacy, meaning that for many Pākehā ‘the past is the past’ and therefore has no impact on the present.
  • a study identifying the prevalent themes of ‘anti-Māori discourse in the media’:
    • nation seen as ‘one people’
    • Māori seen as hypersensitive (when in fact Pākehā are displaying ignorance)
    • crime portrayed as a Māori issue
    • Māori culture depicted as primitive
    • whakapapa described in fractions
    • te Tiriti seen as historical and a barrier to development.

Moving towards fairer representation of Māori in New Zealand media will mean recognising and avoiding such stereotyping. 

Delivering content grounded in tikanga Māori - practical constraints and possibilities  

The media environment contains practical constraints on the delivery of content grounded in tikanga Māori. These include the Crown-imposed structure, legislative and audience expectations, funding limitations and existing notions of ‘quality’ television.  

A more Māori form of media would be grounded in connection to whānau and communities, involve more time spent with the community from whom the story emerges, acknowledge broader values and issues and likely cost more due to added time in preproduction.   

Some journalists have nevertheless brought te ao Māori into their work through the use of te reo and whaikōrero involving the use of proverbs, metaphors and references to spiritual concepts.  

Perspectives of Māori stakeholders on the protection and enhancement of mātauranga Māori 

The research called on learnings from Māori media stakeholder interviews and an online survey disseminated through Nā Aho Whakaari (Association of Māori in Screen Production). Highlights from this engagement include: 

  • Recognition that ‘Māori media, does a really good job. It protects mātauranga Māori. It talks about these things in a Māori context and doesn’t take things out of Māori context. It has an appreciation of the mātauranga and the people who are custodians of it. Māori media know who the experts are.’ 
  • ‘The core responsibility is to pay attention to the values and to the tikanga that underpin mātauranga… any pursuit of mātauranga Māori is pointless and shallow without respect for the values and tikanga.’ 
  • In terms of production, it’s important to take the time to understand the background to a story, to get names (pronunciation and spelling) right and capture ‘that local voice’.  In tribal regions, ‘a tribe’s involvement should not be just at the production level, but for the life of the film. When these endeavours are built from the community-up, when they have the support and mandate of the tribe, and when they have a home, then things can be done so much better.’ 
  • Broadcasting is a powerful platform to portray, maintain and provide mātauranga Māori, but the right people must be driving it. Some wished to safeguard mātauranga Māori, to avoid its use by those who don’t know enough about it, may convey it incorrectly or may be commodifying it for their own benefit. 
  • There can be a tension around the sharing of mātauranga, with the desire to ‘contribute to the society that our kids will grow up in’ yet the need for that contribution to be properly funded (particularly for those working with limited budgets). 
  • It can be challenging for Māori to ‘go in there with open hearts, being proud of who we are as Māori’ when facing barriers (eg racism through negative attitudes to mātauranga Māori). 
  • Even positive steps can have negative consequences. The superficial promotion of mātauranga Māori, eg simple use of some te reo on the news, does not help the public understanding of mātauranga and its potential. 
  • There was a strong emphasis on the need for further training and development around mātauranga Māori, te Tiriti, te reo me nā tikanga, across the media sphere (particularly for those in governance roles with responsibilities for media and broadcasting).
  • Mātauranga needs to be applied in an organisation from the top down. Whoever is at the helm has to ‘walk that talk, ensuring everyone is well and safe’. There’s a need to ensure a ‘korowai of safety’ around a shoot – particularly noting what Māori have had to carry over the years.

Case studies  

Case studies in the report offer insights into innovative models for protecting, enhancing and nurturing mātauranga Māori. The mahi of the Māoriland Charitable Trust, Te Hiku Media, Whitebait Media, Te Reo Tātaki | TVNZ and the Te Rito Māori Journalism programme (a partnership between NZME, Whakaata Māori, Newshub and the Pacific Media Network, with funding from NZ On Air) demonstrates: 

  • the value of community connections, partnerships and diversity of voice 
  • innovative use of technology to assist in the revitalisation of te reo and protection of taonga 
  • the value of partnering with Māori on production and policies and of establishing tikanga for an organisation (including engaging all staff in the use of te reo, waita and karakia)
  • the importance of appropriate funding
  • training programmes drawing on kaupapa Māori design to address the shortage of reo Māori/Pasifika journalists and foster cultural awareness in newsrooms
  • Treaty partnership-based leadership across all levels in an organisation (mana tātaki). 

The successful case studies share common characteristics of leadership, vision, innovation, community involvement and government investment.  
Resources to assist broadcasters 

While the report emphasises the need for further protocols and resources to support broadcasters, it highlights the following resources currently available through Ngā Aho Whakaari to guide those working with Māori in media: