26 Feb 2016

RNZ challenged on level of Maori content

From Mediawatch, 9:10 am on 28 February 2016

Radio New Zealand has responded to criticism of the level of Maori content on RNZ National with a statement outlining the broadcaster’s Maori strategy. Mediawatch looks at the criticism and RNZ's response. 

Willie Jackson

Willie Jackson Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

It was RNZ’s first substantive response to an audit of RNZ’s Maori content by Te Whakaruruhau – the umbrella group for the 21 iwi radio stations – which claimed Maori content made up just 0.1 percent of RNZ National’s broadcasts over a three month period.

Te Whakaruruhau is headed up by broadcaster Willie Jackson, who’s also chief executive of Waatea News. Not surprisingly, Waatea news and Willie Jackson were all over the story following the audit's release on the 15th of February.

The audit was reported by Maori Television’s Te Kaea and Television New Zealand’s Te Karere. RNZ head of content Carol Hirschfeld declined to appear on either programme but was quoted as saying the audit was not credible.

Karere's news report on the Te Whakaruruhau audit.  

Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell and New Zealand First MP Pita Paraone weren’t convinced by RNZ’s dismissal of the audit. Both were reported by Maori media to be calling for an inquiry into the low level of Maori content on RNZ.

Meanwhile, mainstream news media – including RNZ – didn’t report the audit at all.

In his opinion piece setting out RNZ's Maori strategy (summarised below) RNZ's chief executive and editor-in-chief Paul Thompson took issue with the audit’s methodology.

The audit is not credible and in no way accurately measures or reflects RNZ's journalism and programming about Māori issues, language and culture.

- Paul Thompson.

RNZ's annual report for 2014/15 states RNZ National broadcast 204 hours of scheduled Maori news, current affairs and general content against a targeted forecast of 150 hours. That works out at about 2.3 percent of the content broadcast that year.

Paul Thompson went on to say: 

While the audit methodology is questionable, and some of the criticism arising from it ill-informed, the main thrust of Jackson's argument has merit.

Is the critical audit credible?

Mediawatch took a look at the first two days of the 12-week Te Whakaruruhau audit which started on Monday 9 November 2015. The audit found just two Maori stories were broadcast that day totaling about six minutes on air, but by Mediawatch’s count, RNZ broadcast one hour, 11 minutes and 40 seconds of content that day.

The bulk of that was an episode of RNZ’s Maori feature programme Te Ahi Kaa which came in at 49 minutes and was replayed in the small hours of the morning. But there were also interviews on the Nine to Noon, Morning Report and Check Point programmes that the audit failed to spot.

Why the discrepancy? The audit simply took account of stories listed on the Te Manu Korihi page of the RNZ website, and that page doesn’t capture anything like all the Maori content broadcast on RNZ National.

On Tuesday 10 November, the audit listed 10 stories from the Te Manu Korihi webpage, but two of those were actually broadcast on that day.

Willie Jackson told Mediawatch's Jeremy Rose he accepted it wasn't a "forensic audit" but said regardless of whether Maori content accounted for  0.1 percent -  or 1 or 2 percent - it was time for a quota to be set for Maori content at RNZ.

"Do I trust this organisation? No, I do not," Willie Jackson told Mediawatch.

"The history and the way this organisation has acted against our people gives me no faith whatsoever. The CEO's statement and strategy with regards to Maori going forward give me no confidence whatsoever."

Carol Hirschfeld

Carol Hirschfeld Photo: Supplied

RNZ head of content Carol Hirschfeld responded by saying a quota was not the solution.

"One of the things that Willie doesn't ever give us credit for is the increase in terms of quality which I think, without a doubt, has changed," she told Mediawatch.

"It's very much about the types of people we have taken on board and the fact that those crucial stories are being treated with the kind of attention they need. 

Having eight minutes a day is often repetitious, and doesn't give journalists the opportunity to focus in depth on stories in the way that they should. That's to me is what was happening by dedicating a set amount of time to Maori news and box ticking. We're not doing that anymore.

- Carol Hirschfeld

This isn't the first time Willie Jackson has criticised the level of Maori coverage on RNZ.

When RNZ was announced last October that the stand-alone Maori news bulletin Te Manu Korihi would be integrated into RNZ's general news, Willie Jackson told Maori Television it would be better to have iwi stations providing a Maori service on RNZ.

Waatea News, led by Willie Jackson, provided such a service between 2006 and 2011, when RNZ established Te Manu Korihi. Before that, a stand-alone service had been provided by Derek Fox’s Mana Maori Media.

Hear Willie Jackson and Carol Hirschfeld debate the issue with Mediawatch's Jeremy Rose 

Key points of RNZ's Maori strategy:

  • 1. RNZ is committed to preserve te reo Māori through personalised language plans for key executives, presenters and journalists. 
  • 2. RNZ will introduce a Māori Journalism Internship.
  • 3. RNZ will also offer a new partnership (Te Kākano) between itself and the iwi radio network. 
  • 4. RNZ is committed to employing outstanding Māori staff who are leaders in their field.
  • 5. RNZ's website provides a significant platform for us to diversify and promote a range of Māori language, culture and stories.