Radio review: White noise



The picking at his cardigan buttons and the raised brow – a distraction from the school newsletter. Head swivelling with great reluctance to focus on the mini system; as if that alone would countermand. A murmuring into the Earl Grey ensues. A missed step in the shuffle of the morning routine. A loss to rugby, to politics and now to broadcasting.

Change is to be imposed – continuity lost – and the ever-present threat of a sisterhood hijacking unsettles the Sunday vibe. The paper flaps over and won’t straighten up. What’s the score in Chittagong?
Why didn’t she cut the agapanthus back last weekend like she said she would? 6 down and 9 across are a proper pair of bitches. And now the National Programme won’t have Chris Laidlaw on Sunday mornings. A
crisis for grey men in grey slip-ons everywhere.

How will the five and a half people that aren’t bored back into a deep sleep by Laidlaw’s ponderous banality every Sunday – where he evaporates every last drop of emotion and interest in every worthy issue – going to cope with a show that may have a pulse? That’s 5.5 more listeners for Concert FM – so a sizeable increase. Everyone else who listens to RNZ National, I suspect, will welcome Laidlaw’s departure as well overdue. Meanwhile the vast majority of the total radio audience will not know what National Radio is let alone who Chris Laidlaw is, or was. To many he is the auto-snooze setting for Sunday morning – an old fart and his old fart mates mumbling about old fart stuff at golf cart pace, it just blurs right back to sleeptime.

There has been speculation in the wider college as to who will take over the chair vacated by the outgoing don. The types of professors such as Sainsbury and McDonald have been mentioned in the same breath as visiting lecturers like McCarthy. Such are the conclave deliberations and musty ruminations at RNZ, they resemble the internal politics of a perpetually-resourced, but intellectually defunct department at a decrepit university rather than programming decisions at a radio station.

What this column will address is why that person will never be a Maori, but will certainly be of the European race, and quite possibly also born and raised in Europe also. Seeing as how there are only
Europeans and no Maori hosting on RNZ this assertion is well justified. It is about time questions were asked why a few words in Te Reo here and there is supposed to offset the fact Maori and non-white people and their voices are excluded from the state radio networks. It is time to ask the question: why is it that no matter how good a broadcaster a non-white person is they will never get a job, and certainly never an on-air position, at RNZ? Why is it that every person of colour is wasting their time applying for the Sunday position? Why is it that you can have any accent on Radio NZ as long as it’s a white one? Why is it they can have English, Irish, Scots, and American accents but not a Maori or a Pacific Islander, or an
African or an Asian? Why is it that colour is the most important thing for radio at the New Zealand state broadcaster?

RNZ hires Europeans only because they believe they broadcast to a European-only audience. This is a self-reinforcing policy which attracts whites, but drives away potential non-white audience and staff. This euro-centric, segregationist/racially-exclusive domination of a state institution is taken to be a ‘heritage’ characteristic by the European establishment and has never been challenged as to its right to exist as it sees itself: a Pakeha station for Pakeha.

The only Maori they let on are cast in the standard subject roles of victims, the aggreived, the uneducated, the vague and mystic peasant folk and last but not least their tame Maori pets with non-threatening messages – and most of the academics are no better on the odd occasion they are sought for comment. The native people are to be spoken about, by Europeans, and are to be spoken to, by Europeans, but the native people are never to have their own show, and never their own voice on the Crown’s RNZ network.

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They only recently hired some Maori to work in-house on their Maori bulletin because they resented paying Willie Jackson for the contract. Prior to that the only brown people who were allowed to work at RNZ
were the cleaners. The SABC/SAUK at least ended Apartheid there 20 years ago, Radio Rhodesia (if there was such a thing) 30 years ago plus. So when will Radio New Zealand have to reform itself from the racist bastion of the white ruling class into an institution where anyone, of any colour, can sit behind the mic? 10 years, 20 years away? When do they plan to phase out the colour bar at RNZ? ever? I don’t think they want to or that they will, and therefore that means they don’t have a future.

Some state institutions aren’t going to be able to make Treaty compliance or the targets set to prove they are multi-racial and bi-cultural or up to the standards of a future administration and they will be designated for disestablishment rather than transition. RNZ by any metric applied to assess multi-racialism and biculturalism would fail in a most epic fashion, with in-built hostility perhaps and
entitlement indeed, exhibiting only the minimal expected professional tokenism (which is next to nothing). Such institutions are not worthy of carrying on into a republican or any other future.

Anyone who has ever listened to RNZ knows they are hearing the past. It was when I used to listen to the Goon Show at two in the afternoon on Sundays (was it?) back in the 1980s and it is today, still the
past. They may as well go back to the YA call signs and referring to everyone as Mr, Mrs or Miss to better complete the scene. Between Jack Perkins’ ramblings and Wayne Mowat’s scratchy 78’s it is never
clear what decade it is. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the style or the personnel 20, 30, 40 years ago and today except the pontificating prats and blythe bunnies now include the likes of bFM wankers instead of just drawing from Salient wankers as had previously been the case.

Government radio policy is to shell out very little to local Iwi groups and let Waatea function as a network rather than use public funds to erect anything like what the Maori Television Service is to
TV. It begs questions.

If we can have it acknowledged that TVNZ is a Pakeha network for the English language and Pakeha culture by way of Maori TV coming into existence, then why not apply that to radio?

RNZ scrapes along on its zero budget year after year and so avoids the scrutiny: who are you? who are you broadcasting to? and why? At the moment the definitive answers to those questions, in order, are: the
elderly white Wellingtonians and their twee, wanker offspring (with their perculiar NZ Company version of the colonialist view), like-minded white people, and because they are funded by the NZ government.

Who will replace Chris Laidlaw? It doesn’t really matter does it. It doesn’t matter to the management and board of RNZ as long as they have white-coloured skin or could pass as a white person in a voice check. No-one else is eligible. But it’s not racism, because there’s no racism in NZ, like how there’s no rapists in the police and like how there’s no corruption in politics – it just doesn’t happen in NZ.

You’d never hear about it.


  1. RNZ avoids the scrutiny of who are you? who are you broadcasting to? and why?

    Maybe it’s broadcasting to the mentioned five and a half people in Auckland. The other Aucklanders with the radio on have chosen one from more than 40 other stations in the area. You go to different shops and eateries to get different types of food. You don’t go to the Italian restaurant and complain that they don’t do Thai. Expecting all tastes to be catered for in one place is pie in the sky.

  2. A bit of a rant Tim. You’ve over-egged it a bit. I’m white, middleclass and older and I like NatRad. It can be criticised here and there but overall it is fabulous public radio and it’s about NZ. I’d be lost without it just as I am starting to require my dose of The Daily Blog.

    So what’s that wrong with it appealling to those who are alive and aware, interested in current affairs, NZ music etc etc.. If as you say that’s mostly white folks then so be it. I suspect you can describe the audience on class lines rather than race lines. It appeals to the middle classes- of any culture. Why not ?. So this does not deny Maori or any other race. Middle class Maori move comfortably in both worlds as far as I can see.

    What do those who are unaware and uninterested want ? Commercial FM does the trick it seems.

    • It’s pretty much the best radio we have in NZ but it’s a long long way from being “fabulous”.

      It was a bit of a long rant but I totally agree – it tends towards conservative right-wing much of the time, is extremely banal much of the time, and is very very white middle class – upper middle class, that is.

      It does indeed need to represent more of the population, not a twee middle-of-the-road mostly well-off minority.

      Part of the trouble is that it is underfunded and I’m sure feels the pressure to kowtow to the present government lest its funding be cut further.

  3. Methinks you’ve over cooked this one, Tim. I’m not sure what you’ve got against public broadcasting but there is a whiff of feud about this post.
    And “The only Maori they let on are cast in the standard subject roles of victims, the aggreived…. Prior to that the only brown people who were allowed to work at RNZ were the cleaners” is just plain wrong.

    RNZ does often have a “staid” feel about it. That comes with the territory if you’re going to try to present balanced, thoughtful, informed debate and investigation. Laidlaw’s programme was measured, quiet and sometimes a little dense but always informative and interesting. The subjects they addressed weren’t exactly 20/20 so it was necessarily a bit more staid and adult.
    I hope they replace him with someone MUCH better than Sainsbury or McCarthy.

    Pete: wrong. A quick look at the figures shows that bRNZ has a huge audience. People looking foir actual news and information. Nothing wrong with commercial music radio and all power to the community stations but RNZ is the core (very popular core) of the system.

    It might be there’s a Pakeha tinge to the organsiation. Worth addressing. Your approach doesn’t contribute much.

  4. How about using the time for Radio NZ International and our interests/connections with the wider Pacific region?

    We have all manner of programmes to cover our internals. Very few go beyond the territorial waters.

    Very little about Australia. Fleeting bits on the various island nations. Nothing much about Indonesia and Malaysia although we’re all supposed to be palpitating over the ‘threat of boat people’. Dead silence on South America – or South Africa, for that matter.

    And we’re supposed to be an ‘international trading nation’. Ha! Not much available in the media for the aspiring traders, is there?

    PS can the ATL writer find some other term than ‘pakeha’? This country has far more ethnicities in the general population now, and a lot of folk are invisible under that blanket term. Not exactly inclusive.

    • For me, “pakeha” is a term for NZ born, caucasian. I am extremely proud to be pakeha. I know it also get’ used for “white NZer” and that seems to me to be valid. There may be some who want to identify as “Irish” or “Sth African” or whatever. Good on them.
      As to overseas coverage, RNZ is extremely good at that. I hear stories about Asian countries, the Middle east and Sth America almost every day.

  5. The public would be a lot less educated/aware without the role he fills.

    Methinks you are scraping the bottom of the barrel somewhat.

  6. I think Radio NZ , in spite of the Government does a reasonably good job – that doesn’t mean it’s beyond criticism. Although it would make more sense to criticize the Minister of Broadcasting Mr. Foss; Or the Hon Christopher Finlayson. It was declared recently that one of the main aims of the Minister of Culture and Heritage (him) is to promote non-commercial local and regional broadcasting.
    Apart from the ‘continuity music’ I enjoy C L’s programme. Perhaps it’s because of my age, skin colour and language? (For which I’m not apologising) It is usually listened to whilst I’m working at something else. I ‘turn off’ at the boring bits… These days, does anybody just sit and only listen to the radio? And Tim, your ironic remarks about no racism in NZ etc…. Comments such as these, although amusing to some always help to keep racism alive in NZ, don’t they?
    Alex L.

    • Really so by ignoring racism completely in NZ you think it will go away automatically? RNZ has always been an old boys club and a white boys club. But statistically it won’t be for much longer. More and more people of non white ethnic backgrounds are pounding at the broadcasting doors. Those white gatekeepers won’t be there forever.

  7. What a bunch of predictable responses from a bunch of middle NZ whitefellas.
    On the basis of this, I’m expecting at least response along the lines of “Those people have Maori TV, now they want ‘our’ radio station?”
    I sorta agree with Selwyn on this but I don’t believe he goes far enough.
    To those who claim you shouldn’t expect Tom Yum in a Pizzeria, I say RNZ shouldn’t be a pizzeria, it should be a bi-cultural radio outlet.

    No – not a multi-cultural one where any englander/Irish/Scot/Dutchman who has been in NZ 5 minutes and has a media relations ticket from his/her community college back ‘ome, can walk in and start preaching their own special brand of claptrap; a genuinely bi-cultural radio station where NZ born citizens Tangata Whenua & non-Maori alike, present all aspects of Aotearoa to listeners.

    For those who claim that would be racist, I say no it isn’t, it is being culturalist in a medium that is funded to nurture NZ culture.

    Any NZ born citizen with an original point of view, could participate in the non-Maori portion of the programming – just as any Maori who has something interesting to present should be allowed to do so on RNZ.

    The visitors (many of whom never get around to taking out NZ citizenship or if they do, they hang onto their original passport with white knuckles indicating their preparedness to bail if the going gets tough) already frequent all the commercial radio & TV.

    Listen/view ‘the news’ on TVNZ, TV3 or commercial radio and you are more likely to hear a scunthorpe/dublin/joburg accent telling you what exactly is going on, than a kiwi one – Maori or non-Maori.

    I stopped listening to morning report a decade or so ago when the station’s listeners stayed mostly silent over the increasing marginalisation of the Te Reo segments but turned out in droves campaigning to hear some calls of birds their moggies had driven outta their gardens.

    In other words my fellow RNZ listeners rated assuaging their guilt over butchering indigenous wildlife higher than trying to get a handle on the issues which most concerned aotearoa’s indigenous citizens.

    Selwyn is correct on the culture issue, but typically divisive and blind on the age thing.
    If he believes indifference to Tangata Whenua is a flaw extant only in older kiwis, he’s in for a major shock once all of us baby boomers kark it.

    Damn shame I won’t be around to witness his awakening.

  8. Just read this in the past week, as I was away and hadn’t realised Chris Laidlaw was stepping down. Just read the blog and comments, and feel I must comment.

    As a middle aged (sorry — can’t help it, and neither will any of you be able to!) paheka woman, of decididly left wing bearing, I was very sorry to hear Chris Laidlaw will not be on the air on Sunday mornings anymore. I guess, from Tim’s quite oddly obnoxious remarks, I am in a small and very odd minority.

    I think he has done a fine job of discussing a lot of key issues. I think his perspective has been, mainly and of course subtly left wing and of so slightly subversive. Not all the time, of course, but on balance.

    What would you have a state sponsored host do?

    He and his guest often discuss poverty in all its many guises, and I have never heard him express a “neoliberal” viewpoint. His handling of Maori related issues are respectful.
    Yes, he does also have a lot of programmes that are, well, trivial and banal. OK, I turn them off. I turn off most things.

    Who expect his replacement will be better??? It will surely be much worse.

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