Race-baiting in the mainstream media and being ‘acceptably’ Māori

Ātea editor Leonie Hayden and Newsroom’s Emma Espiner sat down to talk race-baiting in mainstream media and why they’re not doing the heavy lifting anymore.

If there’s a scenario I’m familiar with, it’s being asked to be the voice of te ao Māori/rangatahi Māori/Māori media on panels for mainstream radio, TV and live events. It’s not a complete list, but there are a handful of easy go-tos: myself, Mihingarangi Forbes, Stacey Morrison, Emma Espiner, Morgan Godfery, Moana Maniapoto, Miriama Aoake. Media types armed with enough information over a range of subjects to put up a fight but still seem approachable. The motivation behind the invite varies from tokenism to race-baiting to a sincere desire for inclusion and representation. If at first it’s hard to tell the difference, practise makes it painfully easy.

On Sunday, Emma Espiner wrote a powerful thread on Twitter about being asked to appear on The AM Show alongside taha Māori detractor Don Brash on the first day of Te Wiki o Te Reo. Not that anyone needed reminding that Dr. Brash has been given a disproportionate amount of airtime on subjects he is woefully underqualified to comment on, but it seemed important and necessary to hear it again.

All of us working in this space let things slide. We’re used for our access to te ao Māori, even though it sometimes borders on exploitative. We bitch to our friends, whānau and colleagues and then we wait for the next inevitable microagression.

This time, Emma and I recorded that conversation for posterity – call it catharsis, call it further insight into how the media sausage is made. It’s cheaper than therapy.


Leonie Hayden: I’ve been asked twice to appear with Dr Brash. And I’ve said no twice, because that’s a waste of everybody’s time.

Emma Espiner: Yeah but then you get ‘Oh but you need to put up your side of the story’. You actually don’t.

He’s heard our side of the story enough, from people who are far more knowledgeable than us. He’s not listening.

It’s frustrating. They invite him and then they backfill you as racist bait… I’m not trying to burn any bridges; The AM Show have been good to me. But the producer called me and said she had been talking to the show’s presenters. And I think she said in the interest of ‘both sides’ or a ‘balanced view’ they had Don Brash coming on the Monday of Māori language week. It just seems driven by this bizarre controversy journalism.

It’s trolling at this point, surely.

Yeah. I had written this thing for Newsroom saying there was something to like about Brash. His interaction with these rangatahi was cool. I think there’s always something you can find to like, all of us have points of agreement. But I would never recommend on Māori language week that he’s the main guy to go to. We get enough of his perspective on Māori issues the rest of the year. How many times have Pou Temara or Timoti Karetu been given unfettered access to platforms in the mainstream? Genuine experts. The voice and platform he’s given is disproportionate.

There are nine easily searchable instances where he’s been brought on a media platform to talk about Māori language, Māori history, Māori politics, te reo Māori etc… none of which he is an expert in.

I’m not trying to be super unreasonable, I’m not trying to shut the guy down. But let’s be honest about how much outsized perspective he’s got relative to his lack of expertise. He’s proud of the fact that he knows nothing. There would be no issue if actual experts were given a similar platform.

Helen Clark’s husband [Peter Davis] came back at me on Twitter saying ‘It’s a missed opportunity to debate the issue’. Well actually, it’s not incumbent on us to constantly justify ourselves. Because that’s the power dynamic.

They get to describe some vague ‘Devil’s advocate’ ideology and you have to somehow disconnect yourself from your whakapapa and the lived pain of colonisation in order to provide an objective, clear-eyed response.

Exactly, it’s massively personal, it’s too hard to be objective. If [Brash] had it his way, I wouldn’t be at med school. He doesn’t believe in affirmative action. My husband [RNZ’s Guyon Espiner] probably would have lost his job for speaking te reo on the radio. And people say you need to not take it so personally. Well there’s nothing in it that’s personal for him, no one wants to take anything away from him.

Despite all of the pushback – and people are pushing back overwhelmingly against shows using him as a commentator, just look at all of the comments aimed at RadioLive today – do you think at this point they’re being disingenuous about the ‘two-sides’ argument and they’re just baiting us?

Yes. 100%. And it’s lazy. Yes, I’m biased but I know Morning Report have been working on their Te Wiki o Te Reo content for months. Jack Tame has been working with Stacey and Scotty [Morrison] on what to do for Breakfast. And then The AM Show’s response is ‘oh shit we haven’t got anything, let’s get Don Brash on the first day of the weekThe thing about Brash is you can only blame him to an extent. He’s just responding to invitations. At some point the people asking need to take responsibility.

That’s the issue here really, the responsibility of media. But how much longer can we even have that conversation? I feel like we’re a few years deep now.

Even just changing it up. Get some other racists. [laughs] There can’t just be one, can there? Again, it’s not about not allowing that viewpoint, it’s just that disproportionate influence.

Well that’s right, because actually there are Māori who don’t agree te reo should be compulsory in schools, for instance. Peeni Henare was making an argument for it on Q+A this week. Let Māori be the ones arguing about our future and our values in the media. That’s the proper dissenting voice, someone who can speak fluently. Not someone who knows nothing.

Have you been invited to speak on anything this week?

I’m going to do The Panel, they asked me months ago. I can’t do any morning shows because I have hospital commitments. The other thing that fucks me off is that I’m a media-acceptable Māori. Like, Pākehā enough to present an acceptable face. You know what I mean?

Oh I understand that fully. I’d say I fall into that category.

You know who doesn’t get asked, because they’re notable in their absence. There’s no shortage of people who know way more than I do but they’re not in anyone’s contact books, and no one bothers looking too far.

On the one hand, there’s not a complete lack of Māori voices in the mainstream. I was listening to Robbie Rakete kōrero Māori on The Breeze this morning which was incredible, and Stacey’s on The Hits later in the afternoon. But there does seem to be a level of acceptability. Is it that we have white speaking voices? There are experts you never see or hear outside of Māori media. They’re properly famous and renowned in one world, and invisible in another. It’s some Harry Potter shit.

I’m not interested in having a media profile for the sake of it, so I don’t say yes to everything. I always put forward other Māori women so people can start filling up the contact books, so they know there’s more than just me, you and two other people available.

You’re far more generous than I am. If I suspect someone is about to make me do their job for them and find my own replacement, I’ve already hung up.

So, if you were in charge of all the media this week…

Put me in charge motherfuckers!

…what would you want to hear? Who would you want to hear from?

Again I’m biased, but what Guyon’s done this week is scheduled interviews with people you don’t hear in mainstream. He’s got Scotty coming in… Scotty is so under-utilised in Pākehā media. They had Naida Glavish this morning, and Pania Papa and other people he’s seen in Māori media. It’s that bridge that Kelvin [Davis] talked about last year that I’ve never forgotten about, the bridge being the Treaty.

And that more Māori have had to cross the bridge than Pākehā. Maybe more foot traffic across the bridge, in both directions. Just for the week. There’s virtually no crossover between Māori and Pākehā media in New Zealand. Like nothing. Pania would make an amazing anchor. Everyone on Native Affairs, the political shows. Give them a presenting role on TV One or TV Three and just see how it looks. And make it more about the kids. Our kids don’t have the baggage around te reo that us and our parents did. They learn it at school, it’s just cool and normal, that’s that’s the end of it. Thank fuck for that.

Thank fuck for that.

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