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‘Janice’s email stood out for its dazzling ignorance’: Jack Tame on the racist email which made him snap

Jack Tame reflects on his reaction to a very stupid email on Breakfast – which has now had over one million views on Facebook – and explains why we still need our bubbles burst. 

I think it’s time to lay off Janice.

She cannot have expected this response: Multiple Janice-from-Friends memes, ‘Living Next Door to Alice’ rip-offs (Janice? Who the fuck is Janice?), and the introduction of the English language’s least likely verb. It’s now apparently a thing to “pull a Janice.”

We received hundreds of viewer communications during Tuesday morning’s Breakfast. The short email I read from a viewer named Janice (NB: we won’t publish Janice’s surname) advocated for Māori to be moved to a remote island and left alone. While Janice’s email might have stood out for its particularly dazzling ignorance, it still wouldn’t have been the most offensive communication we received throughout the course of the show. Ain’t nobody got time to be sharing viewer correspondence on eugenics.

This stupidity is surely of little surprise. I started as an intern on Breakfast more than a decade ago, and when combined with my experience as a host on Newstalk ZB, I’m normalised to the consistent slurry of hate and xenophobia that floods in from a certain slab of our populace. Climate change, Māoritanga, immigration, gender equality, LGBTQI+ rights etc. It would be naïve to mention such subjects on air and not expect a bit of heat.

But that being said, ignorance isn’t representative of the wider audience for either Breakfast or Newstalk ZB. Feedback is a critical vehicle through which to engage with and reflect our respective audiences. For every dumb message we receive, there are many more that maturely and respectfully engage in conversation.

Of my two broadcasting gigs, some associate Newstalk ZB with pushing conservative agendas. So, some hosts don’t believe in climate change? Perhaps someone suggests on air that Māori receive special treatment. I’m hardly the only Newstalk ZB host who’s not afraid to disagree.

I’m not gonna say it doesn’t get ugly. It can be horrid at times. But would you really prefer an echo chamber? Would you really prefer to pretend that attitudes such as Janice’s don’t exist in our society? A bubble benefits no one.

Tfw not so tame anymore

Consider the industry context. If you were only interested in becoming a big-name host, it wouldn’t make much sense to carve out a modern broadcasting career on an agenda of reasonableness. Inflammatory rhetoric rules. I’m supremely lucky to have been afforded the opportunities I’ve enjoyed and my jobs are a great privilege, but I’m under no illusions: shock jocks more easily win eyeballs and ears.

It mightn’t be a particularly calculated approach, but whether interviewing or editorialising, I just try to say and do what I think is reasonable and right.

That leads us to Janice.

Ahh, Janice. I read and reacted to her email as I did because it pissed me off. When our producer rushed in with a stack of printouts and I flicked to her message, I actually wondered for an instant if it might be satire. In that moment, there was no plan or agenda. When you’re live on air for three hours every day, six days a week, there’s never much time to overthink a response.

I’m a first generation New Zealander. I’m sincerely proud to live in a country with a unique and impressive indigenous people. I believe language is the frontline for culture and that Te Reo Māori is beautiful, and I’m embarrassed that we don’t collectively speak it better.

I also think the majority of Kiwis would find Janice’s suggestion disgusting and unreasonable.

So I said what I said. And if you’re dismayed by Janice’s sentiment, please take solace the broader response to her email shows that our audience overwhelmingly agreed with my approach.

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