Celebrating Maori Television

By Nick Grant

After many trials the channel is for all of us, says Nick Grant.

Pita Sharples on the opening day of Maori TV.
Pita Sharples on the opening day of Maori TV.

Maori Television is now so tightly woven into the fabric of Aotearoa New Zealand's media landscape it's easy to forget it wasn't always so. Documentary Through the Lens, which screens a decade to the day it began broadcasting, is a timely celebration of how much the channel has enriched the country's culture over the past 10 years, as well as a reminder of the long struggle its advent involved.

Producer-director-narrator Nevak Rogers, associate producer Jeni-Leigh Walker and co-director Chris Graham have done an excellent job of arranging the engaging hour-long show into five coherent parts: the 30-year campaign for a Maori language TV channel and its eventual success, and the indigenous broadcaster's approach to news and current affairs, sports coverage, community-based programming and participation and special events.

The opening section briskly sets out how the seeds for Maori Television were planted by a report in the early 70s stating Te Reo Maori was a dying language and needed to be seen and heard in the media, especially television, if it were to revive. This in turn led to a Maori Language Petition and a 1972 select committee on the issue and finally, many years later, a court case against the Crown for breaching provisions of the Treaty of Waitangi that went all the way to the Privy Council and resulted in Maori Television being established.

This first segment also notes the opposition the channel faced leading up to and after its launch. There were plenty of naysayers, notes current GM of production Carol Hirschfeld, which is the cue for a clip of Gerry Brownlee saying nay. Founding chairman Derek Fox also recalls a period in which the Sunday Star-Times ran something negative about Maori Television weekly, and a time when so many parliamentary questions were posed about the channel each week (65 on average) that the broadcaster had to create a fulltime position to deal with them.

Indeed, there's a trace of understandable utu threading through the programme. For example, Fox sets the scene for how sorely news and current affairs with a Maori perspective was needed by quoting his former TVNZ boss who responded to a story pitch with, "Yeah, that's pretty good but I've done my Maori story for the year."

And in the segment on sport, Julian Wilcox remembers Michael Laws opining to his RadioLive listeners that he'd trust Maori Television's ability to broadcast the Rugby World Cup as he would a small child with a knife.

For the most part, however, the doco strikes a celebratory note, as it charts the journey of the channel from media punching bag to the country's de facto public broadcaster, thanks in particular to its generous, inclusive coverage of annual events like Anzac Day and Waitangi Day, and one-off, era-defining moments such as the tangi of the Maori Queen, Dame Te Ataarangikahu and the Rise-Up telethon in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.

The show also serves as a taster of all the channel's original daily programming, and has certainly whetted my appetite for tuning into Maori Television on a more regular basis.

As the channel's motto of "Ma ratou, ma matou, ma koutou, ma tatou" states, it's for all of us.

Through the Lens screens Friday, 8.30pm, on Maori Television.

- Herald on Sunday

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