A Maori leader has branded members of his own iwi racist and "crazed dogs" for demanding media companies pay to enter a Waitangi marae on New Zealand's national day.

Ngapuhi iwi members are threatening to charge Pakeha media $1000 to enter the lower Te Tii Marae at Waitangi on February 6.

Matarahurahu hapu chairman David Rankin said Maori media would be allowed in free.

Mr Rankin said that demand was akin to the separatist policies of apartheid South Africa.

It came from a "self-appointed" group of radical iwi members who were not recognised as trustees of the marae by the Maori Land Court , he said.

"It is absolutely like South Africa. This is all about separatism. It is about splitting people apart. Marae are about bringing people together, not splitting them apart.

"I expect Joris De Bres... to make a stand on this issue. This is cultural apartheid, and we can't allow it."

Race Relations Commissioner Mr de Bres said the decision to charge for access to Te Tii Marae did not help race relations.

But it was unlikely to be unlawful as the marae is not subject to the discrimination provisions set out in the Human Rights Act, he said.

Those provisions apply to public spaces and selected areas such as education, employment and housing.

"I consider the practice to be ill-advised and not conducive to harmonious race relations. Generally speaking, the media should be facilitated in their coverage of important Waitangi Day events and discussions while being challenged to do so professionally and in a balanced manner."

Prime Minister John Key this morning said he wanted to know what the fee was for.

"If it's cost recovery that might be reasonable but charging the media for a fee for covering our national day of celebration in my view seems unreasonable.

"I think we need to find out exactly what the fee is being paid for. I guess we'll make some inquiries. Whether we get straight answers is a completely different issue. I mean it's fundamentally not public space, but I think it's really the message that it sends."

The move felt "like it's a money making exercise".

Some public funding went to the marae, but Mr Key did not know how much.

"It's happened before, it's not new, but it is, as I say, very disappointing. I mean we want the media to be able to cover the celebrations at the lower marae, because we want New Zealanders to be able to see and understand and enjoy the significance of Waitangi Day."

But TVNZ head of news and current affairs Anthony Flannery said his company had paid a $1000 koha to Te Tii Marae officials for many years.

It is a reasonable price for the convenience of being able to safely station a live-eye truck and expensive electronic equipment at a powered site close to the grounds, he said.

"We believe the $1000 fee is entirely fair and are grateful for the ongoing access we are given and convenience we are extended as a result of this long standing arrangement."

Mr Rankin said many of the group issuing the demand were radicals and did not speak for the more conservative iwi majority.

Levelling the charge against Pakeha media went against Maori culture of hospitality and increases division at a time when Ngaphui's treaty claims were about to be settled, he said.

"This is a radical faction that's raised its ugly head up. When you get a radical faction they become like crazed dogs. How do you control them?

"These self-appointed bullies are doing great harm to our people. With one hand they have a closed fist, with the other they have a beggar's palm.

"I speak on behalf of the part of Ngapuhi who feels embarrassed by what they're doing. They're living in the 70s, 80s and 90s when radicalism was cool. Now capitalism is cool. The only way we're going to achieve rangitiratanga is by investing."

Mr Rankin said he was planning to issue notification to all Pakeha media guaranteeing free access to the Te Tii Marae the day before Waitangi Day.

He advised any media that did pay the $1000 charge to enter the marae to get a receipt and said he planned to notify Government agencies such as WINZ about any income gained on the day.

Disciplinary action could be taken against those trying to charge media to enter the marae, he said.

"Last year this was tried on a smaller scale, and no record has been left of where the money went to. This is not a koha, it is deemed as income because it is demanded from people. It goes completely against our culture of hospitality to visitors, regardless of where they are from."

- With NZPA