The former head of TVNZ's Maori and Pacific programming, Whai Ngata, has died.

Mr Ngata had a 40-year career in journalism, working at the Auckland Star and Radio New Zealand before helping start up the Maori and Pacific unit at TVNZ.

With former TVNZ journalists Derek Fox and Purewa Biddle, he set up the TVNZ Maori news programme Te Karere. He headed the Maori unit at TVNZ until his retirement in 2008.

Mr Ngata was the great-grandson of Maori leader Sir Apirana Ngata.

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Labour's Maori Development spokesman Kelvin Davis said "it is with great sadness we learn of the passing of the pioneering broadcaster, journalist and lexicographer.

"He is described as one of the key figures in the revitalisation of Maori language and culture.

"Labour's Maori caucus and the wider party send our sincere condolences to his wife Geraldine and the whanau," Mr Davis said.