In a media conference this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was reminded to keep Māori media and especially iwi radio in mind if there’s going to be any media recovery package. She replied the government needs to continue its work bolstering the support of Māori media and that community radio needs to be continually supported.

Peter-Lucas Jones, the chair of Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori (the iwi radio network) and deputy chair of Māori Television appeared before MPs on Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee for its session on the state of NZ media.

Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori represents the 21 iwi radio stations around the motu.

Jones said now, more than ever, the iwi radio station network is integral to getting information out to hard to reach vulnerable communities – especially those who have a distrust of mainstream media and government messaging.

Many rural Māori communities rely on iwi radio as their trusted source of information because they have limited or no internet connectivity. Iwi radio is an essential service and a constant friend for people in lockdown in their respective kāinga.

The network collaborates to promote te reo Māori and tikanga Māori through content creation and broadcasting essential iwi radio services for national and regional Māori audiences especially kuia, kaumātua and haukāinga residents. 

Since the lockdown began, iwi stations have set up their teams to work remotely. This has required a lot of ‘Nama Waru Muka’ thinking – dusting off old laptops and setting up networks and systems to make sure they can stay on-air. The focus has been on making sure they provide the latest updates to Māori communities about COVID-19 and what support is out there for specific community needs. Across the network, they discuss how to share content and support each other.

Jones is also the chief executive of Te Reo Irirangi o Te Hiku o Te Ika in the Far North and says they have tried to make it possible for their whole team to continue working to some degree. “Unfortunately, there were members that weren’t able to work from home so we continue to support them. It is likely that this is reflective of all stations across the network, with station managers being innovative in their approach to the situation and working hard to keep our broadcasters on-air and content production teams working.”

Regular updates from kaitiaki in the haukāinga who are policing papakāinga entry points and other main roads are of particular interest to haukāinga residences.  

Creativity is flourishing. Whakaruruhau say they are working as a team to develop ideas for content, identifying potential interviews and building the questions for announcers while maintaining a regional focus supported by fact-checked information. 

They are thinking about ways to keep communities connected which has seen them go back to old-school but fun segments, like ‘Birthday Shoutouts’. Teams are rallying to support each other and giving positive feedback while adjusting to a new way of working and connecting virtually.

While Māori media has always been collaborative, technology allows iwi radio to take live feeds and push them out on air, on their websites and social media channels. There is also a ‘taha wairua’ when broadcasting for and to Māori communities, iwi radio broadcasting starts and ends with karakia. The voices of kuia and kaumātua on the radio in the morning keeps audiences grounded throughout the day as broadcasters entertain and inform with relevant updates, national and regional news, topical discussions and waiata from the Māori music community. 

Technology has been an advantage but also presents significant challenges. Many stations are working with new radio playout systems to facilitate broadcasting from home. It has been difficult for stations across the iwi radio network to invest in the digital infrastructure that supports remote working. But they are an essential service, especially for remote communities that aren’t served well by mainstream media, so they are the connection for many to get the information they need. 

Another challenge has been ensuring staff are well. Jones said, “check-ins are done regularly and support is offered. The change to remote working has been an adjustment, especially at a time when there is so much uncertainty and anxiety. Maintaining a positive work environment has been a constant focus.”

Iwi radio teams are generally small and people are never one-trick ponies so if there’s a way to get the job done, iwi radio rises to the occasion. A unique challenge has been pānui mate. When iwi members have passed away during the Level 4 lockdown, this has required special consideration from a tikanga Māori perspective.

Māori broadcasters have a responsibility to serve the most vulnerable community at this time. Although iwi radio stations are underfunded and under-resourced, this is an important time to embrace creativity and connection. Our people seek a voice they recognise and a Māori perspective on current events.

While mainstream media has seen massive changes with loss of jobs at NZME and the closure of Bauer Media – as well as pay cuts at Mediaworks, Jones pointed out the unique and valuable role iwi radio plays and said it’s important to allow iwi radio to thrive as we move forward. “I am hoping that we will see a change in the way Māori media is resourced,” he said. 

Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori chair Peter-Lucas Jones on the Committee’s livestream. Photo: Screenshot / fair use

 

Ngā Aho Whakaari’s Executive Director Hineani Melbourne added “Ngā Aho Whakaari support the need for iwi radio stations who supply an essential service to neglected mainly Māori communities.  Iwi radio stations led by Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori play an essential role in getting the message out to people that other mainstream services miss.  Iwi radio stations are essential to communicating to the corners of our society, particularly Māori, in the language and style that Māori respond to.  Mainstream media and communications groups have always neglected and been unable to engage and inform our people in a way that is not condescending or racist or completely misses the real life experiences of Māori.”