The British Tribe Next Door invites a Namibian tribe and a British family to live side-by-side (Photo: Channel 4)

Race relations commissioner rebukes TVNZ’s decision to air ‘racist’ new show

The British Tribe Next Door attracted over 60 complaints of racist themes from viewers when it first aired in the UK. Now TVNZ is airing it on Wednesday nights, attracting concerns from members of Aotearoa’s African community and a letter from race relations commissioner Meng Foon.

When The British Tribe Next Door was released in the UK late last year, it caused quite a stir. Articles criticising the lack of taste and racist tones were all over the media, and there were over 60 complaints made to the broadcasting authority from home viewers.

The show follows the life of a British family that moves into a replica of their house, with all their belongings, built in the Namibian desert next door to a group of indigenous Himba people. Now TVNZ’s started airing the show each week, prompting a petition made by African New Zealanders and a letter from race relations commissioner Meng Foon. 

Sent to TVNZ executives and broadcasting minister Kris Faafoi, Foon’s letter – which The Spinoff has obtained a copy of – highlights the concerns raised in the petition. He asks whether TVNZ sought advice from African communities before making their decision to procure, screen and promote the show. “I am not sure if you are aware that overseas responses to this show have revealed similar concerns that it is offensive and distasteful,” he states.

“It is my strong view that indigenous cultural traditions, such as those of the Himba People presented in the TV show, should be protected and embraced rather than capitalised on and exploited for entertainment purposes.”

Race relations commissioner Meng Foon

Chinwe Akomah, who started the petition which now has over 500 signatures, is asking TVNZ to pull the show from the Wednesday night slot and their OnDemand service. 

“It plays into the ignorant views people already have of a diverse continent rich with countless cultures and ways of living. It chooses to focus on the racist narrow-minded view that was used to enslave African people and colonise African lands. It is told through a biased white Western lens,” Akomah states in the petition.

She says the show “implies that Africans are savages, a racist rhetoric that all black people face every day”. And she believes it is in breach of the broadcasting standard covering discrimination and denigration.

In his letter, Foon asks if TVNZ are aware of the petition and cites the media’s role in encouraging positive race relations.

“I therefore encourage you to take note of the offence this show is causing the African community and many non-African New Zealanders … Media plays a significant role in influencing race relations and, as a state-owned media organisation, I believe TVNZ has particularly important commitments in this respect.”

Some articles came out in defence of the show when it aired in the UK. One published in the Independent from a Namibian anthropologist suggested the show was a useful look into the “wisdom, strength and humanity of the Himba people in the series”.

A spokesperson for TVNZ confirmed they had received the letter but would not comment further at this time.

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