The place of Māori language and traditions in Aotearoa media with Dr Atakohu Middleton

The place of Māori language and traditions in Aotearoa media with Dr Atakohu Middleton

In preparation for Maori Language Week, Telum Media spoke with Dr Atakohu Middleton, a Senior Māori-language Journalist at Radio Waatea, to discuss the place of Māori language and traditions within the Aotearoa media landscape, and how she sees this changing in the future.

What place Māori do language and traditions currently hold in the media?
Te Reo Māori and tikanga Māori (Māori culture) are no longer confined to the Māori-language and Māori-interest broadcasting sector in Aotearoa.  As the country develops a greater appreciation of the language and culture of its indigenous people, the values of partnership as expressed in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and as Māori gain a greater proportion of decision-making roles in the media, we are seeing Māori language and the expression of tikanga become a natural (albeit limited) part of English-language programming.

Since 2016, when Radio New Zealand started leading the way, it has become commonplace to hear presenters and reporters use bilingual greetings and sign-offs. For example, in this column I wrote for Radio Waatea about the use of Te Reo in broadcasting, the first words of the country’s most-watched news show one night were "Kia ora" coupled with "Good evening". Other bilingual phrases included "e whai ake nei" (coming up) and "ngā mihi" (thank you). Mainstream broadcasters are responding to the public’s desire to know more about Māori life with shows like From Hongi to Hāngī, where viewers are introduced to Māori culture and customs in a friendly, inclusive way, and by a bilingual reporter.
What changes do you see in the future?
I foresee a gradual increase in what we are already seeing. The signs are there: for the past four years or so, the Māori-language teaching sector has not been able to keep up with the demand from all the other sectors of society. Young people educated in Te Reo Māori since immersion schools opened in the 1980s are now moving into executive roles, taking their collective values and their easy confidence in moving between two worlds.

Complaints from a certain minority asserting that English is the principal language of Aotearoa gain little traction with the media or news media watchdogs. In March last year, the New Zealand Media Council, the standards body for print and online media, refused to hear a complaint about’s use of "Kia Ora, Aotearoa" as a greeting on its website, saying that this breached no principles. The following month, the Broadcasting Standards Authority announced that it would no longer accept complaints about the use of te reo Māori on air, saying that as the language was an official tongue of the country, there were no standards issues to consider.

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