John Drinnan: 'Maori' will remain in the name Maori Television

Paora Maxwell said it was never the company's intention to remove the word Maori from its brand. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Paora Maxwell said it was never the company's intention to remove the word Maori from its brand. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Maori Television has promised that the word "Maori" will remain in its name. That will be a relief to some in Maoridom, who saw the possible axing of the word as wrong-headed.

Amid controversy this week, chief executive Paora Maxwell said it was never the company's intention to remove the word Maori from its brand. It was the essence of the channel's whakapapa and reflected where it came from, said Maxwell.

It is unclear whether someone mis-spoke, but a Maori TV spokeswoman's reported comment on Sunday that the word might be dropped made an unusual entree to Maori Language Week.

In some ways, it exposed an existential dilemma for the channel.

According to 2013 census figures, just 21 per cent of Maori speak the language and 3.7 per cent of the total population. Last year, 52 per cent of Maori TV's audience was non-Maori.

Richly resourced

Maori TV was founded after a long, heroic legal fight, which led to a Privy Council judgment that the Crown had a Treaty of Waitangi obligation to support te reo in broadcasting.

This year its $33 million allocation was topped up with an extra $9.6m in the latest Budget.

That is nearly $43m compared to $35m for Radio New Zealand, so Maori TV is not under-funded.

Maori TV has a special obligation to te reo, but is television really the best way to teach the language?

A lot of its Maori language content is screened on a second, less-watched, te reo channel.

According to 2015 figures supplied by Maori TV, its two channels broadcast an average of 72 per cent Maori language content - 59 per cent on the main channel and 99 per cent on te reo. There was an average of 36 hours a week of Maori language learning programmes, and 630 hours of such programming is available on demand.

So, few doubt that Maori TV is meeting its obligations to promote the language. Yet after 12 years of Maori TV, the number of Maori language speakers has fallen.

AUT professor of history Paul Moon says that is the fate of all minority languages and Maori is doing better than most. And Maori language advocates believe the broadcaster is playing its part, he says.

But it also needs to show popular programmes - and they need to be substantially in English.

The idea of rebranding seems to have gained energy since Waipareira Trust chief executive John Tamihere joined the Maori TV board in April. Tamihere is heavily involved in the Auckland Maori radio station Radio Waatea and brings a commercial focus to the board.

That's entertainment

Maori Language Commission chief executive Ngahiwi Apanui would prefer to see Maori language programming on the main channel, but says the focus in language education has to be on the young, and that involves entertainment.

The commission will be a part of a new governing structure for Maori TV, called Te Matawai, which Apanui believes will bring the different arms of Maori broadcasting together.

I asked whether the money spent on Maori TV could be better spent on other language initiatives.

After all, it has been going for 12 years and the number of Maori speakers has gone down. "I can say the same thing about the Maori Language Commission," he laughed. "We have been around for 29 years."

Apanui does not doubt that Maori TV has had an effect on the number of people speaking te reo, but he agrees that other aspects of learning are more important.

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been a business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s.

Read more by John Drinnan

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