More than ever, New Zealand’s ethnic communities can play a crucial role in elections. In the first of a Spinoff series, Don Rowe talks to Sandeep Singh, editor of the Indian Weekender.
There are now almost 200,000 Kiwi-Indians living in New Zealand, and for 120,000 readers, the Indian Weekender is a newspaper of choice. This year they’re dedicating more column inches than ever to the general election with Verdict 2017, canvassing the issues most important to their audience ahead of the vote next month.
In elections past, the Indian community was seen as a Labour stronghold, sympathetic to the outreach of party leaders like Phil Goff and Helen Clark. But, says editor Sandeep Singh, the community is in flux, and the vote at large is still up for grabs just over six weeks out.
The Spinoff: How do you intend to cover the election?
Sandeep Singh: We are already covering the election aggressively. We are running a weekly special called Verdict 2017 and I believe we are into the fifth issue. We already have covered four issues, and what we are doing is raising an issue that we believe is important to the community and then we are trying to get most of the politicians in the Kiwi-Indian community space to comment. It’s been going really well and it’s available on our website.
What are the issues that the mainstream media aren’t necessarily doing a great job of covering?
I think they have a different mandate and they’re looking for issues they can cover nationwide. Some issues which they deem fit in to the majority’s interests may not be that important for us. For our communities it’s issues like law and order and immigration – especially scaremongering around immigration – that are the very important issues. Especially when it comes to law and order, we don’t see much being done, either from the mainstream politicians and political parties or the mainstream media. Those are the issues that we are trying to raise, and we are trying to reflect the community’s concerns.
These are issues that generally only surface in the mainstream media when things get particularly bad. With your coverage would you say that you’re trying to provide balance or a more in-depth look at the issues? How do you cover those issues?
We try to tick all the boxes. We want to raise the issue, to create awareness, and we want to build a bridge between ethnic media and the mainstream media. We also want to communicate the message to the decision makers, to politicians, and whenever we get a chance to interview them or to speak with them we definitely relay the thoughts of the community and what they are feeling. That’s the kind of way we prefer to operate.
Aside from law and order and immigration, what would be one or two other issues that are key to the Indian community heading into the election?
These are the two main issues. They are definitely the main issues that will be deciding the community’s vote, but there are other issues too. What the community want to see is how much the big political parties are doing nationally to allay our concerns. Issues like education and things like that, they also matter, but what the community wants to see is how the big parties are warming up to the views of ethnic communities.
Which parties are doing a good job of that and who’s not doing so well?
For the Indian community, the election is still wide open, and we have seen how things can change so quickly these days. But I would start by saying that traditionally the Indian community has been warm to the Labour Party, particularly during the Helen Clark and Phil Goff days. The community was very warm towards the Labour Party. But over a period of time what we have found is that the Labour Party has walked away from the Indian community. That’s how it feels. And so National has started to make more in-roads. That has happened, and the community is still wanting a positive outreach from the Labour party. If there is a similar outreach to the time of Helen Clark and Phil Goff, the community would very quickly warm up to Labour. But right now I would say it looks like they’re leaning a little more towards the National Party.
But that is flexible, it’s in flux and it could change rapidly. They just want to see what these parties are doing for the issues that matter to them, like take law and order. The undercurrent feeling is that the Labour Party is not coming up very strong on law and order. So it all depends, the ball is in the court of the political parties as to how they choose to respond to the community’s concerns.
What’s the mood in the Indian community heading into the election?
I would say that the Indian community is very open. We’re watching the changes, even if we appear deceptively unconnected to the elections, but the undercurrent is that we are watching and seeing the way the mainstream media is portraying these changes of leadership and the changes on the left. The community is tight-lipped now, but they are watching, and what Indian Weekender thinks is that the decisive factor that determines their votes will be how much the political parties are willing to walk the talk. With more outreach the community will pick up their pens and vote.
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.