30 Jun 2017

Māori TV expected to pull 'Jonah from Tonga' from screens

8:18 pm on 30 June 2017

Māori Television's board had no knowledge controversial Australian comedy Jonah from Tonga would be broadcast on the channel and has vowed to axe it.

Jonah From Tonga

Jonah From Tonga Photo: Supplied

An email document obtained by RNZ has revealed high-level board concerns about the show, where a white Australian comedian dresses up as a Tongan student.

The draft document, which has been shared between Māori Television's current board members, says they "regret not being made aware in time to prevent the first programme from going to air".

It said Māori would "feel insulted if non-Māori painted their face and proceeded to belittle our people".

"We unequivocally apologise to our Tongan whanau," said the document, which added that the broadcaster would never play the show again.

The email also discussed concern over politicians questioning "our processes and judgement", and suggested moving quickly.

Pacific Island politicians have expressed their concern over the screening of the show, with Minister for Pacific Peoples Alfred Ngaro saying it perpetuated negative stereotypes of Pacific people.

Labour's Carmel Sepuloni agreed, saying it reinforced crude stereotypes of the Tongan community.

She said the TV series was not something a Pacific family could sit down together and watch.

"The difference that I see between perhaps our comedians and the quality that they use and what we see here [Jonah from Tonga] is that there's a lot of profanity with Jonah and you don't see that generally with our Pacific comedian who appeal to that family audience and enable us to laugh at ourselves."

Māori Television management has stood by its decision to run the show. Head of content Mike Rehu said the broadcaster had been sensitive in airing the series.

Mr Rehu said ultimately everyone could not be pleased.

A Tongan American military veteran started a petition to pull the show off America's HBO cable network in 2014, which was signed by almost 12,000 people.