Challenging RNZ’s racial exclusivity



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.

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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 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.


  1. I love a good left wing purge of a left wing institution. Won’t be happening anytime soon though. Can’t imagine the Chardonay Socialists supporters of The Greens and Labour would counternance their beloved commercial free national; broadcaster being disestablished even if the new one was meant to be “better”.

    • Chardonay Socialists versus Pinot Grizzzz/Bolly conservatism eh Gozzz.
      Have a think and some self-analysis sometime – you’re more from the tow-the-line;spout-the-mantra;push-the-dogma collective than anybody I’ve encountered in this ether so far (which isn’t that often.

  2. @ Tim
    I’m glad you’ve provided the historical context to your post.
    In my humble opinion, one of the problems with Public Service Broadcasting in general, and RNZ in particular is down to the way a neo-liberal agenda has been applied to the airwaves over the years.
    As you reminisce, we had a population of about 2.5 million (say). PSB (i.e. such as the old NZBC could make such a claim) into a bugger’s muddle where publicly owned assets had a commercial imperative applied – be it with transmitters and bandwidth, be it with the flogging off of NZBC commercial networks to private ownership with profit as its raison d’etre. Kordia et al. One of the biggest neo-lib conjobs we all seem to have swallowed without any question.
    By now (with population growth AND with what should be a more mature approach to Treaty obligations), Radio NZ would/should have several networks -not JUST National and Concert. The Finn bros proposed a youth network (I’m in two minds about whether the age demographic is the way to go, rather than networks based on themes such as News/Current affairs, music, education, etc – it assumes for example that most youth aren’t interested in current affairs or clasical music, or that all the geriatric aren’t interested in popular music).
    Even the funding mechanisms are disjointed and fucked.
    You’re correct in saying there is a very WASPish flavour to RNZ culture, but I’m not sure its going to be solved without a complete review and commitment to PSB. RNZ is bad (and I’d go so far as to say – getting worse – but thank Christ it hasn’t yet buckled under the pressure …. IT’S ALL WE’VE GOT LEFT aside from various shoestring iwi, ‘Access’ and student radio efforts.

    • I have no idea how the new system is meant to be better than the original hence the use of the quotes. You are better placed to discuss this with Mr Selwyn as he is the one who obviously thinks his proposed new national radio will be better than the current one.

  3. Tim, Have a look around the world and see what happens when any national organisation decides to take the Identity Politics road (which is what you are asking for). Europe is finally facing the consequences of trying to appeal to everyone. The UK is a particularly good example where they have tied themselves in knots trying to have “at least one of each”. In mainline europe they are even starting to turn back on these programmes. A recent example is the question of Muslims in Denmark. Denmark is a large producer of pork, and among other things they use a lot of it in their school lunches programme. Problem is the growing number of immigrant muslims want it banned (as they think the stuff is sinful. And this isnt just the meat itself – but it has implications through the food preparation chain). The Danes have finally said ‘Eat the stuff or go hungry” – but the muslims are off to the EU courts – and its going to be an endless process that has only one possible end – a further ingraining of racist attitudes.

    Now – my main point – I dont know why youve dragged the treaty into it.

    There was a well publicised action taken to the privy council some years ago over ther subject of fulfilling treaty abligations and as a result Maori TV and maori radio were setup and given money to do so. Thats what the applicants wanted. (And to be honest i dont know why there is any non-english language on RNZ – since the maori TV and radio was setup specifically to fill this sector.)

    As we all know its been pretty much as waste of time and money as maori speakers and the spread of maori culture has continued to decline (because its only if those targeted want it to work – will it work. Theres plenty of evidence around the world along those lines. I thing the ground breaking study was the ‘saving’ of the welsh language and methods used there)
    There have been recent suggestions that maori TV and radio be absorbed into the national networks. I dont if that would work as an administrative system, but I suspect its will be about as effective as the current setup has been.

    • NZ is not a country of Maori and Pakeha. It is a multicultural country where EVERYONE should be treated exactly the same irrespective of race, religion, sexual orientation or political persuasion. Those two groups sit around trying to pick and choose what rights they have and what they don’t. We have the right to kill our fellow man, eat them take and their land. We have the right to turn up from the other side of the world and use our tech to impose a foreign culture on a native one.
      I don’t give a damn about the treaty.
      My right to be here is because I was born here and its time we recognised that just because your forebears were first off the boat or first off the canoe that doesn’t grant you any special rights or privileges.
      Im sick of all this racist crap.
      NZ one nation, one people.

    • Not sure if your comment is at me or Mr Selwyn ….. however if you’re not sure why he’s/I’ve dragged the Treaty into it…..
      It’s perhaps because it is supposed to be an ONGOING partnership, AND because RNZ as a purportedly PS broadcaster represents that quaint old idea of a/the public sphere.
      In future, I’ll post as “Once Was Tim” to avoid confusion.

      • Well an ongoing partnership requires that both parties work in that direction.

        If maori interests go off to the privy Council and ask for
        SEPARATE treatment – then thats the end of ‘partnership’.

        If Maori interests want voting and representation by right at local councils but everyone else has to operate by the democratic vote system – then thats the end of ‘partnership’

        All quite simple really.

    • @ Barry: “There was a well publicised action taken to the privy council some years ago over ther subject of fulfilling treaty abligations and as a result Maori TV and maori radio were setup and given money to do so. Thats what the applicants wanted. (And to be honest i dont know why there is any non-english language on RNZ – since the maori TV and radio was setup specifically to fill this sector.)”

      Exactly so. Having for many years taken an interest in Treaty issues, I remember that time very well. Maori did indeed want their own TV and radio channels; they didn’t want to be a token presence on RNZ.

      In my view, the announcements in te reo used by presenters currently may be well-meaning, but they come across as tokenism of the worst sort. Were I a language warrior, I’d be really irritated by it. Presenters saying “kia ora” won’t save the language, and activists know it.

      I’m a long-time RNZ listener: 30 years ago and more, there were entire programmes presented exclusively in te reo; such programmes used to go to air on Saturdays, and on Sunday evenings, if I remember rightly. Of course, back then, there were many more native speakers than there are now; in any event, that sort of programming has migrated to Maori TV and iwi radio. There’s no turning back from that, I suspect.

      “As we all know its been pretty much as waste of time and money as maori speakers and the spread of maori culture has continued to decline….”

      If te reo is to survive as anything other than a ceremonial language, there must be native speakers. That means people whose first language is te reo, and who speak it pretty much exclusively for the first 4 or 5 years of their life, and who live in an environment where it is spoken pretty much exclusively. No amount of money spent on broadcasting or language classes will save the language without those native speakers.

      Last I looked, Welsh survives because it’s spoken in the home, particularly in the remote valley communities. The same has been true of Irish, in the Gaeltacht areas at least (when we had lunch at a pub in Waterville on the Ring of Kerry a few years ago, we were the only people apart from the waitress speaking English). I believe, though, that even there, Irish is under assault from the spread of English.

      The survival of te reo is in the hands of Maori themselves; they are the ones who must create te reo-speaking communities. The rest of us cannot do it for them. And RNZ should not be expected to have a role in language revival, for the reasons adduced above.

  4. You CANNOT be ‘one nation, one people’ if you are also ‘one nation, many people’ – because you cant cater to the special needs of each group while pretending that you are catering to all people at the same time.

    I sorry if I implied that NZ was just pakeha & maori – its obviously not – but the treaty (not the founding document but an important one) sets up these two groups. (Well really maori and ‘all others’ – but then it says ‘one people’ which sort of negates many of the differences that are currently claimed that come from the treaty.)
    You may not like that (and many dont ) but you have to tolerate it. Its one of the ‘privileges’ that result from being born here!!.

    If you try and cater to the population group by group then that results in the opposite result – you have to identify and target each group – those giving rise to ‘many people’.

    Its an oxymoron to suggest anything.

    • We’re actually multiple ‘nations’ within a legally defined ‘state’ or nation-state.
      You don’t actually have to ‘target’ anybody – merely attempt to ensure diversity, and at present (if I can be so bold as to interpret Mr Selwyn’s problem) – based on what appears to be some sort of content analysis, the WASP nation is what prevails, and any other ‘nation’ is left to the dregs of that “shoestring iwi/Access/student” endeavour.

    • Barry says:
      May 7, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      You CANNOT be ‘one nation, one people’ if you are also ‘one nation, many people’ – because you cant cater to the special needs of each group while pretending that you are catering to all people at the same time.

      Hmmmm, try telling that to the Canadians – one nation with two peoples; two languages. (More if you include First Nation folk.)

      Or Switzerland, made up of French German, Italian, etc.

      The US has 50 states and the way some of them behave, you’d think they were about to secede from the Union.

      Or even Old ‘Blighty’, made up of England, Wales, Scotland, and a chunk nicked from Ireland.

      Of course the Treaty is a founding document. It was signed by representatives of the Crown and most local Chiefs. Are you suggesting the Crown no longer has authority over this nation?

      • No – no. the founding document is the one that gives New Zealand – as part of the colony of New South wales (as it was at the time) the right and powers to exist as a Dominion – a legal separate entity. This was issued subsequent to the treaty (in the same year – 1840)

        You see there was no legal entity of ‘New Zealand’ before this document was issued by Queen Victoria in – I think it was ayway – October 1840. Before then NZ was part of NSW and the treaty was an agreemnt between a group of maori chiefs and the Queen. It had nothing to do (legally) with New Zealand (as it didnt exist then).

        As for the Canadians – one people my bum. Quebec regularly wants to go independant (and the others would love it if it did. B.C. would join the USA, the Maritimes would also join the the USA. The people of Vancouver hate the need to do everything in french and english – just extra cost – and the speaking of french is declining all over canada.

        In Switzerland the thing that holds then together is their independance from the rest of europe and the binding of local referenda. Anyone who thinks that anyopne else likes the german is just nuts. All of Europe know that if Hitler came back tomorrow they would do it all over again. Its the fear of those tutonic barstards that keep many of the others in line. The insane (mostly the balkans) are beyond help.

        The USA is as broken as it ever was. To those in the south the civil war is but on hold and blacks and coons (mexicans) are just a bloody bunch of trouble makers.

        United Kingdom – One People! – give me a break. Scotland wants to break away, The Welsh hate the English – as do the Irish. Jeez – youve got to be crazy to think the UK is ‘One People”. Have you travelled through a UK airport lately? – youd think you were in India or pakistan.

      • Julian Wilcox is certainly an excellent interviewer. But on Morning Report, he’d still have to do the type of interviews currently carried out by Espiner and Ferguson. An appointment of this sort risks being just more tokenism, unless it brings substantive change to programming along with it.

  5. You appear to have ignored the even greater racism demonstrated by Concert FM; mainly music by dead white Europeans played by colonial white orchestras with plum voiced neo-colonial announcers.

    We need far more ethnic music and less elitism. Bring hip hop and rap music to CFM with ethnic bands and damn the Wellington elites.

    • …. or properly fund it so that there is (at least) another network to cater for that. Why are there so many commercial networks pumping what is essentially the same old same old (in some cases automated) ‘playlists’?

      Also @ Tim – perhaps you could respond to D’Estere’s comment that Maori wanted control of their own networks as opposed to being ‘a token presence’ on RNZ. He’s correct – there was that debate BUT it didn’t mean they wanted shoestring operations. From my recollection is was more to do with local representation rather than a centralised/network oriented presence.

    • @ Ben Thomas: “Bring hip hop and rap music to CFM with ethnic bands and damn the Wellington elites.”

      You’ve got to be joking! How on earth does trashing the icons of one culture help to promote the icons of another? And gangsta rap, I suppose: however it got to be an icon of Maori culture, it’d sit awkwardly beside Monteverdi’s Vespers. And I know which I’ll be listening to…

    • @ Jane: “Where can I get one of those radios ?”

      Let us all know if you find out; I’d like one too.

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