The regulatory body that investigates complaints about our TV and radio programmes has today made it clear that the use of te reo Māori is not a breach of any broadcasting standard.
Since June last year, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has received 27 enquiries about the use of te reo Māori in a broadcast – five times as many as the same period a year prior. Two resulted in formal complaints.
The most recent complaint, “KS and Television New Zealand Ltd”, was submitted as a breach of the standards of “fairness” and “discrimination and denigration”.
The complainant claimed: “The practice [of using te reo] is discriminatory toward non-Māori speaking New Zealanders and divisive. Those that don’t understand the language, the vast majority of the population, are being purposefully excluded and the practice is disrespectful and shameful. I find it offensive because of the inequality they practice. I can understand they are looking to include Māori and that’s a good thing but that should not be not at the exclusion of the rest.”
In response, the BSA members declined to “determine a complaint”.
“A complaint about the use of te reo Māori does not raise an issue of harm as envisaged by the standards. Its use is a matter of editorial discretion appropriately determined by broadcasters.”
As an official language of New Zealand, the use of te reo Māori is protected in law. The release sent by the BSA to media today was written in both English and te reo Māori.
In a response to a 2017 letter from a serial complainant, the BSA ruled that the complaint was outside its jurisdiction, but noted that “the tone and language used by the complainant, both in the content of his complaint and in his correspondence with Authority staff [is] offensive, derogatory and dismissive”.
Broadcasters’ use of te reo has increased in recent years, and so have the complaints.
Last month, RNZ’s Māni Dunlop told The Spinoff she pushes to include more te reo when challenged, but the complaints do affect her. “The personal ones do get to me. When they contact you on your personal phone and those sorts of things, that can be really hard.”
The BSA meets monthly to determine complaints against standards including fairness, good taste and decency, balance, accuracy, discrimination and denigration, law and order, violence and children’s interests. The outcome is then recorded as “upheld”, “not upheld” or “declined to be determined”.
The regulatory body received 135 complaints and issued 111 decisions in the 2019/2020 financial year, a rise of 11% and 23% respectively on the previous year. Out of the 111 decisions, 16 complaints were upheld, 84 not upheld, and 11 were declined to be determined. The majority of complaints were about news and current affairs coverage.