12 Feb 2017

More than just the media vs the marae

From Mediawatch, 9:11 am on 12 February 2017

Pundits have predicted the media shut-out at Te Tii marae - and politicians pulling out - might mean the end of Waitangi Day as we know it. But will the media simply follow the leader next year? 

A tarpaulin erected to prevent media from filming proceedings on Te Tii Marae.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

All media were effectively banned from Te Tii marae after they declined a request for $10,000 in return for exclusive rights to broadcast. And they enjoyed rare backing from politicians. 

Longtime media critic Winston Peters turned it into a joke for the benefit of reporters.

"It's got to be pretty bad when I'm defending the media. It must really be a crisis," he laughed.   

"I cannot see myself going back there if there's going to be a continued media blackout," said Labour's leader Andrew Little, who wasn't laughing. 

Having priced themselves out of the media market, the media questioned whether Te Tii marae trustees had pushed themselves out the Waitangi Day frame in future too.

Coupled with the PM’s earlier decision not to turn up, it prompted predictions the focus of Waitangi Day commemorations would shift away from there from now on. 

Scorn from on high

Among those heaping the blame on the Ti Tii marae trustees for this was Newshub broadcaster and columnist Duncan Garner.

"Waitangi is such a special place. It's much bigger than a few money-grabbing opportunists with dollar signs in their   eyes," he wrote under the headine Te Tii Marae can stick it where the sun don’t shine.

"If the trustees of Te Tii Marae can't open their home for two days to the rest of the country to experience and witness the events that lead up to our national day then are they really the right people for the job?," Fairfax Media’s Jo Moir wrote from Waitangi.

On Morning Report on Tuesday, senior Te Tii marae trustee Emma Gibbs said the media are seen as agents of what she called “political pushing”.

But in the past it hasn’t been quite as simple as all the media and politicians on side against the marae authorities on the other.  

Paying for preferential access

For many years broadcasters have given koha to the marae – which might otherwise be out of pocket hosting, feeding and cleaning up after the media and other visitors.

Back in 2010, there was a similar dispute when it was reported that the Te Tii marae committee was requesting a "service fee" of between $500 and $1000.

Some media outfits didn’t pay, but in the end, none of them were prevented from reporting on Waitangi Day that year.

The following year the Committee asked media organisations for $1000 apiece. Politicians including the PM John Key urged the media to refuse.

But not all the media were singing from the same songsheet at that time.

TVNZ told Mediawatch at the time it had for years paid koha for access to the treaty grounds for TVNZ’s news and Maori programmes and it was happy to pay $1000 in 2011.

Back then, TVNZ had to accommodate several news and current affairs shows. But since then TVNZ has scrapped its Maori unit and outsourced the production of Marae and Waka Huia.

in 2011, Other media were moved on by marae officials who said TVNZ’s payment gave them exclusive rights to broadcast. 

TVNZ’s reporting at the time didn’t contradict the impression they were getting what they paid for - and other media didn't.

"Pictures like this are priceless," said TVNZ One News over footage of John Key being jostled at Waitangi in 2009.

"A picture can be worth a thousand words - or dollars," said One News over footage of former National Party leader Don Brash getting pelted with mud at Waitangi five years earlier. 

That sounded a lot less like TVNZ was paying to bring an important national event to New Zealanders, and more like they were buying the best seats in the house for newsworthy scenes of conflict - at the expense of their news rivals.

Sorting it out

In the end it was actually the marae’s trustees who intervened in 2011 to ensure other media could stay and report. 

Both sides  - the media and the marae  - know roughly what the other side needs and wants each year as our national day approaches.

On RNZ’s Waitangi Day special last Monday, TV producer Keith Slater - a veteran of many Waitangi Day broadcasts for TV3 said it is possible to sort this problem out.

"It's just not dignified - and that's the media and other components of the crowd up there," he said.

Keith Slater says the media should co-operate to reduce the demands at Waitangi.

"It needs discussion a different level. Pooling footage from the meeting house, for example, would solve a lot of problems," he said.   

Follow the leader?

The signing of the treaty will still be commemorated at Waitangi whether the PM and other politicians are there or not.

That puts the ball in the media’s court. Will they bother to turn up even if there’s no PM or protest to report? Will they really take their lead from our leader?

Prime Minister Bill English is welcomed onto Hoani Waititi Marae during Waitangi Day celebrations.

Prime Minister Bill English is welcomed onto Hoani Waititi Marae during Waitangi Day celebrations. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

Writing on The Spinoff website - former editor of Metro Simon Wilson - pointed out that Bill English made two interesting speeches on at Bastion Point on Waitangi Day after taking up an invitation from Ngati Whatua.  

He spoke of the economic and cultural importance of iwi to whole country, and specifically acknowledged the essential role of activism and protest in Ngati Whatua’s progress.  

But the mainstream news media all but ignored what the PM said, partly because they were more interested in his upcoming call with President Trump.

That was an irony noted in the only other detailed account we could find of the PM’s speeches.

"Bill English set out with optimism and conviction what he believes has made New Zealand great – a ‘unique culture of dealing with difference and diversity and tension among people,’" wrote Tim Murphy, co-editor of online startup Newsroom. 

The news media could do worse that rethink their culture of dealing with difference Waitangi Day too.