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John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

John Drinnan: The future of Maori TV gets political

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Maori Party co-leader and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Maori Party co-leader and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The future of Maori broadcasting has become caught up in pre-election coalition politicking.

Maori Party co-leader and Maori Affairs minister Pita Sharples is pushing plans to merge Maori TV with the funding agency Te Mangai Paho and The Maori Language Commission.

The proposal - called Te Matawai - would pass more control of Maori programming to iwi and take it away from Crown appointees. Advocates believe that will be good for te reo.

But it appears to reduce transparency for spending of $73 million of taxpayer funding. Critics within Maoridom say it takes control and resources away from grass roots supporters and hands it to a new Maori bureaucracy.

The new te Matawai board would also have control of TV signal and radio spectrum which might make possible the development of other iwi TV stations, taking some of the focus away from Maori TV.

Some Maori broadcasting sources believe this would be good for preserving the language the uptake of which, as a percentage of the population, has diminished.

But others - such as Maori broadcaster Willie Jackson and politicians on the left, like Metiria Turei and Hone Harawira, see Te Matawai as handing funding for te reo to iwi - including having a poor record of supporting the language.

They view it as part of the clash between "establishment" iwi organisations, and urban based authorities and activists - comparable to the clash over unregulated iwi control of the Te Kohanga reo Trust.

The Maori Party is promoting the idea and Sharples appears to see it as his legacy when he steps down in September. National is not ruling it out amid chances it may require Maori Party support to form the next Government.

The Te Matawai proposal promoted by the Maori Party would remove Te Mangai Paho's role as a Crown enterprise and Treasury officials are strongly opposed to the idea.,

Wellington bureaucrats say that some aspects of the change can be achieved under existing rules held by the Minister of Maori Affairs. A coalition agreement between National and the Maori Party could overcome legislative requirements and National has slowed progress while not ruling it out.

Under such an agreement a National Minister of Broadcasting might agree in advance to act on the recommendations of appointees to board, said a source familiar with options,

National supporting the initiative could be seen as part of National shoring up the support of the Maori Party. A Government spokesman said "It would not be appropriate to comment on a paper that Minister Sharples has yet to bring to Cabinet.

"Any potential coalition agreement with any other party would be worked on after the election, not before.

- NZ Herald

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