Sunday, February 05, 2006

Not public broadcasting

National Radio has replaced Mana News with daily Watea Maori news feeds. I've given the new arrangement a couple of weeks before commenting, but my initial impression has remained - another bad decision by Radio New Zealand's current management.

It was a death of a thousand cuts for Mana News, which started with a 20 minute evening magazine programme 16 years ago, wehn Beverley Waken was running the state broadcaster.

That show got shorter and shorter, but it remained a valuable window into Te Ao Maori, offering viewpoints not heard in the mainstream media, and maintaining a style of its own.

Sometime last year Radio New Zealand spoken word manager Paul Bushnell decided things must change. Bushnell, who has no news background, has had a meteoric rise in the state owned broadcaster since coming on board to do an arts programme for Concert FM in the late 90s.

His innovations have included replacing the dull but extremely competent Wayne Mowatt with the soporific Jim Mora in the afternoons, dragging out Checkpoint to an awkwardly padded two hours, and relegating arts programme What's Going On, which was working nicely, to a Sunday slot.

Bushnell decided Maori news should come as bulletins read by RNZ's Maori staff. A content provider was needed to supply scripts and audio for three minute-long items per bulletin.

Despite such a package being more expensive to produce, RNZ offered less money.

Waatea, Willy Jackson’s Mangere-based news service, has the contract to provide news in te reo to the iwi stations. That is a legacy of Wira Gardiner's time in control of Te Mangai Paho when Gardiner, as is his normal operating procedure, changed everything for the sake of change, taking the contract off Ruia Mai. This means Waatea is the only Maori news organization with the infrastructure to provided the service RNZ was looking for at the price.

The result is, quite frankly, drab and uninspiring. Most of the stories seem sourced out of that morning's Herald. There is no surprise. The sound is the same as the main bulletins, even if the items are longer. It sounds like a ghetto slot - "this isn't good enough for the main bulletin, but we'll tuck it in here."

As a public service broadcaster, Radio New Zealand should be reflecting the whole diversity of this country's voices and experience. Instead, the powers that be have decided non-white voices should get the most token of slots, and only if they conform to white norms.

Mana News never accepted that sort of prescription. Founders Derek Fox and Gary Wilson believed Maori broadcasters should be able to find a distinctive voice and a way of telling Maori stories, and they succeeded in this. Their vision was under attack from the beginning, not just from Wakem's successor Sharon Crosbie (who also rid her airwaves of the Pacific Islands vernacular broadcasts) but from Maori broadcast funding agency Te Mangai Paho (whose members had no radio or journalistic experience – go figure).

Because it has so little to offer in terms of programming opportunities for Maori and because it is unwilling to consider Maori listeners of any importance, Radio New Zealand has problems attracting and retaining skilled Maori broadcasters. That seems unlikely to change.

Fortunately, the views of Bushnell and RNZ chief executive Peter Cavanagh are not shared by all staff there, and Fox popped up on Linda Clark’s morning show, offering his usual considered views of the current scene.

However, that is only one voice, compared to the many he used to bring to the air.


Blogger PaedsRN said...

Hi. FYI, Nga Korero o te Wa has been added to a list of NZ blog links at



7:47 PM  

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