Radio New Zealand is the government-owned company operating the National and the Concert networks (on AM and FM reaching 98% of the population) and the AM network broadcasting parliament, they also operate an international service on short wave focused on the Pacific Islands, a news service, a general website and a youth focused website. RNZ is given $31.8m annually from the government’s NZ On Air broadcasting fund, the amount having been frozen by National in their budgets. In addition to this the Ministry of Culture and Heritage gives $2.1m and Parliamentary Services $1.2m to provide services. RNZ is governed by a Charter and Principles which are discussed below. The Governors themselves are appointed by the government and is chaired by veteran National Party media handler Richard Griffin.
RNZ defines it’s own corporate history as having come from a licence fee funded non-commercial network of the 1920s put under a government board in the 1930s where it has remained through various name changes.
When I was younger, in the days before FM, they were called the National Programme or 1YA (being the Auckland call sign) and the Concert Programme (which was YC or YD). From my vivid recollection of the protected, insular 1970s and 80s – when a shitty second-hand transistor cost more in today’s terms than a new CD player does – I remember the National Programme had The Goons at 3pm on Sundays, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy late at night, they had Alistair Cook’s Letter from America, replays of the extended BBC world news twice a day, BBC radio plays, Correspondence School for an hour at 1pm on weekdays and other quaint anachronisms: one of which was beyond the token Maori and the token show – it was Henare Te Ua for many years – there were no Maori, or Pacific Islanders, or anyone other than white people allowed on Radio New Zealand. It was – to paraphrase Kiwi Keith Holyoake – another British network down here in the South Pacific.
Another pink bit, for pink people.
RNZ operated in those days, from a listeners perspective at least, like it was a provincial service of the BBC – like BBC Wales or like BBC Ulster – this was like BBC NZ. The announcers pretended as much as they could that they too were as British as the same old limited stock of BBC records they played over and over again and they grafted on suitably plumby Home Counties accents to cover their own inferior colonial voices. They might just as well have had a ‘Europeans only’ sign hung over the front door of Broadcasting House for all anyone could tell. Unfortunately The Goons and Alistair Cook are no more, but the Pakeha monoculture at RNZ – the outlook and expression which is dependent on Britain and their promotion of Europe as a source culture and their reliance on the European colonial diaspora as their peer group, all to the exclusion of others – is as strong now as it was back then. How is it that a relic of the past has survived untouched by Treaty obligations to adequately represent Maori and remains audibly unaffected by the impact of migration and the diversity of cultures and ethnicity that has occured since the 1980s?
How have RNZ escaped reform?
My previous three radio reviews (posted to You Tube as a case study) attempted to quantify the extent of euro-centrism and racial bias at RNZ National. Taking the 9 to noon weekday show as an example I found that only 2 out of the approximately 50 voices over the week were recognisably non-white and that one was accomplished in the British entertainment scene and the other was Hone Harawira who was only on because it was his turn as a party leader in that slot for that week. Approximately 40% of identified voices were foreign accents and most of those (30%) were British. That was a normal week of Kathryn Ryan’s show. The afternoon and evening shows have not been assessed in a similar way, but I would say after years of observation they have less foreign voices and more local voices – although those are predominantly provincial Pakeha, not Maori or others.
The Saturday morning and afternoon shows however may have even more foreign voice than 9 to noon. Looking at scheduled programme content I found that the two Maori shows listed (only one of which is in Te Reo) plus their repeats amounted to only 1.8% of weekly content, meaning non-Maori content was 98.2%. Looking at the on-air presenters page in the long white cloud of the 49 mainly middle-aged Pakeha the only non-European ethnic stand-outs are the three Maori presenters that host the two shows mentioned and an Asian woman (who does Asian Report) which is a total of 3 out of 49. It should be noted that these three identifiably non-Europeans are hosts of programmes to do with their own culture rather than in any other capacity, underscoring the tokenism.
By any measurement – number of voices aired on shows, scheduled content by airtime, number of presenters on air – the results are quite stark: Pakeha/Europeans are vastly over-represented (compared to their proportion of the total NZ population) and Maori and others are vastly under-represented. The contention I make here is that for a national government institution run on Crown funds this situation is unjustified, that it is racist and that it must be rectified.
Before continuing it must be stated that the reactions in the comments to previous blog posts by loyal Pakeha listeners of RNZ fall into three categories: those that accept the evidence of racial bias and see the need for more diversity, those that accept the evidence of racial bias but don’t see it is a problem that can be or needs addressing, and those that deny the evidence shows any bias. The weakest arguments have been advanced for the latter; without any countering data leaving nothing of substance to refute. The resistance to accepting that a rather obvious racial preference, or a colour bar if you will, operates at RNZ is defensive and cannot be supported by their assertions.
These critics in disputing my data however concede that minority representation is important (at least nominally important) and they try to include as many tiny parts as possible to inflate representation, without conceding that in these tiny parts Maori and other non-Europeans must always be the subjects speaking through Pakeha, moderated by Pakeha, interviewed by Pakeha, edited by Pakeha with all of the expectations of conformity with Pakeha norms that go along with this interaction which controls their authentic voice. At RNZ they might be on the bus, but they always have to sit at the back. RNZ does not want some data known and they select their own measurements for their own self-serving purposes, for example in the annual report pay scales are only broken down by gender not by ethnicity, but staff numbers are – and Maori number 4.5%, Pacific 2.9%, Asian 1.6%. What they don’t tell you is what sort of staff they are – even with those low numbers the on-air numbers and time on air for those minorities would be somewhat less than that. The excuses offered by the middle group, that the situation is acceptable, is almost as pitiable as the deniers; here’s some choice ones that always come up: it’s difficult to get Maori staff and they cost too much (the most heinously obscene claim given what salaries are about for white folk and the available talent), foreign accents are hard to understand (but of course the thick European accents are all OK though!), there are other stations that cater for Maori and ethnic groups (as if trying to compare a few stations in the cities and underpowered local Iwi stations with a multi-network institution like RNZ is fair – indeed it just highlights how unfair and unequal it is).
The reason such a pronounced racial bias exists can be put down to complacent governments keeping the status quo, not wanting to upset the Wellington-based vocal and traunchant Pakeha who have a sense of ownership. Continuing a legacy from a time when it was acceptable to exclude monorities and when NZ was a monocultural Pakeha nation with a begrudged Maori minority, an invisible Pacific Island community and nobody said boo is long over. Wellington’s projection of itself and its NZ Company view of the nation as an orderly exploitation of the indigenous people and resources by the European settler is increasingly out of synch with the political realities of the Treaty and the demographic realities of 25 years of mass global migration. The increasing proportion of non-European youth in the whole population (and what will be the future adult population) for example, is contrasted with RNZ’s thewireless.co.nz in which Pakeha youth – including someone with a British accent – are the hosts, relegating the brown voices to prim and proper guests on their best behaviour.
So to accommodate the sensitivities of the Wellington elite and to ensure the status quo (colour bar and all) remains intact a Charter and Principles of Operation were drawn up in which, essentially, RNZ was to be accountable for its programming through surveys of its own audience. This self-referential system means the legacy Pakeha audience is locked in as the dominant stakeholder and any possibility of upsetting that core group is therefore off the agenda, hostage to their innate conservatism: so very little change will be risked, or can be risked the way the Charter is written. Maori are only an adjunct, thrown in as (1)(b) … ‘including Maori language and culture’ and that is it full stop. There is no Treaty mentioned anywhere, there is not even a separate clause, the only mention of Maori chucked on the back of cultural diversity and amongst all these other balancing clauses to dilute what little intent was present. All RNZ has to go off are the RNZ audience’s own delusional assumption that they have achieved diversity in terms of their own undemanding standards from their Pakeha monocultural perspective.
The self-justifying Charter mechanism without a reference to the Treaty is what needs to be replaced to improve RNZ rather than any one person or position. With a wider mandate, to represent the minorities that have been excluded and marginalised, and a wider measure than their own survey RNZ could be a much better national broadcaster. However resistance to risking any audience share to other stations will be almost impossible for new management. Cleaning out an institution where 38% of staff have more than a decade of service under their belts will also be tough. In these circumstances it may be advisable to disestablish RNZ altogether and release their assets and frequencies to a different public organisation, one that isn’t dependent on foreign content and that doesn’t practice apartheid.