RNZ, te reo Māori and Brash

Ki te tangata?

An increased use of te reo Māori on Radio NZ has been a talking point for some time.

It doesn’t bother me, but I think it is overdone at times.

But it has bothered Don Brash. Late last month:

There was a response by Emma Espiner at Newsroom: The threat of Te Reo

It’s become a running joke among friends and family that my husband, vampire-like, feeds on and grows stronger with each criticism of his use of Te Reo in his role as co-presenter of RNZ’s Morning Report. What’s less of a joke is the sustained attempts by some, who agree with Brash, who are fighting against the use of Te Reo and against Guyon and RNZ in the form of BSA complaints and letters to RNZ’s managers, CEO and Board.

I dislike the ‘old white men’ argument where one simply says those three words and the offending viewpoint is rejected because of its provenance without any further need for debate.

It’s good to see her saying this.

What’s interesting to me as a Māori woman, is the way that my Pākēhā husband has been able to champion Te Reo into the mainstream in a way that it would be impossible for me to do, were I in his position. As a Pākēhā man with a powerful role in the New Zealand media he has a position of extraordinary privilege from which to challenge the status quo. He has strong support in this endeavour among the leadership of RNZ, most importantly from other noted Pākeha man, CEO Paul Thompson.

Over at TVNZ Jack Tame is cutting a similarly admirable path on the flagship Breakfast show.

The complaints about Te Reo being used in mainstream media give me great heart looking to the future. This positive response might surprise some, but I believe we can view these people (and they’re always the same people) as the rearguard of progress.

As society shifts, they will continue to yap at our heels and protest, but the trend for Aotearoa is against bland mono-culturalism and fearful mono-lingualism.

A decade ago it was Māori Television. Today, it’s using Te Reo on Morning Report and Breakfast TV and putting macrons in newspapers.

In ten years time these things will be completely normal and there will be another battle, which the rearguard will again resist and lose.

There is definitely a trend. In the main I am fine with this. But not so Brash – and Kim Hill wasn’t fine with Brash over it.

She interviewed him on 2 December, if ‘it can be called an ‘interview’: Don Brash – Ragging on Te Reo

He has weighed into the debate about the use of Te Reo in the past few weeks, saying he’s “utterly sick” of the use of the language by RNZ reporters and presenters.

I haven’t listened to that, but I saw a lot of comment about it. It is still being talked about.

Karl du Fresne: Don Brash didn’t stand a chance against Kim Hill

The first was to think he could criticise a high-profile Radio New Zealand presenter on Facebook and get away with it. The second and much bigger mistake was to accept an invitation to explain himself on Kim Hill’s Saturday morning radio show.

Inevitably, Brash was savaged. It was as close as RNZ will ever get to blood sport as entertainment.

Brash described Espiner’s flaunting of his fluency in te reo as “virtue signalling” – in other words, displaying one’s superior moral values.

For this offence against the spirit of biculturalism, the former National and ACT leader was summoned for a discipline session with Radio NZ’s resident dominatrix.

The result was entirely predictable. Hill was acerbic and sneering from the outset.

She didn’t bother to conceal her contempt for Brash and neither did she bother to maintain any pretence that this was a routine interview, conducted for the purpose of eliciting information or expanding public understanding of the issue.

It was a demolition job, pure and simple – utu, if you prefer – and I doubt that it was ever intended to be anything else. Its purpose was to expose Brash as a political and cultural dinosaur and to punish him for criticising Hill’s colleague.

Perhaps, but it could have been more than that. Hill may have also thought that Brash was a political and cultural dinosaur.

Then du Fresne gets to the crux of his complaint.

Here’s where we get down to the real issue. RNZ is a public institution.  It belongs to us.

The public who fund the organisation are entitled to criticise it. But can we now expect that anyone who has the temerity to do so will be subjected to a mauling by RNZ’s in-house attack dog? Or is this treatment reserved for despised white conservative males such as Brash, to make an example of them and deter others from similar foolishness?

Either way, Hill’s dismemberment of Brash was a brazen abuse of the state broadcaster’s power and showed contemptuous disregard for RNZ’s charter obligation to be impartial and balanced.

I presume Brash was given some sort of right of reply in the interview. I don’t know if he was given a decent chance to defend himself.

This is nothing new, of course. The quaint notion that RNZ exists for all New Zealanders was quietly jettisoned years ago. Without any mandate, the state broadcaster has refashioned itself as a platform for the promotion of favoured causes.

I often listen to Morning Report, it looks at a wide range of topical issues in far more depth than most other media, and generally seems reasonably fair and balanced.

Interviewers do sometimes push their guests hard – but this is essential, in politics in particular. It is a sign of a healthy democracy.

But Brash has a perfectly valid point. Whatever the benefits of learning te reo, it is not the function of the state broadcaster to engage in social engineering projects for our collective betterment – for example, by implying we should all emulate RNZ reporters and start referring to Auckland as Tāmaki Makaurau and Christchurch as Ōtautahi.

Social engineering? That seems over the top. RNZ is not making me use te reo Māori, and I generally don’t. Also, I learn something from their use if it. That’s a good thing.

There’s quite a bit on RNZ I don’t want to listen to. If so I turn it off (increasingly frequently when John Campbell gushes over the top in another crusade).

RNZ does many things very well and my quality of life would be greatly diminished without it, but no one will ever die wondering about the political leanings of many of its presenters and producers.

RNZ is often referred to as ‘Red Radio’.

Some of the RNZ presenters have fairly obvious political leanings, to varying degrees. That’s normal in any media. I can make no judgement of their producers, I don’t listen to them.

But te reo Māori is cultural, not political, so du Fresne seems to be confused.

Brash criticised Guyon Espiner in particular, someone who seems more balanced and non-politically leaning than most journalists in politics.

Du Fresne’s article has morphed from a grizzle about the use of te reo Māori, to a grizzle about Kim Hill doing a tough interview on the poor Don Brash, to a grizzle about some radio presenters appearing to favour one side of the political spectrum.

I could go to The Daily Blog or The Standard and find plenty of claims that media is far too right wing. This is just lame ad hominum from them, and that is what du Fresne resorted to in trying to conclude his argument against the use of te reo Māori on RNZ.

Perhaps that should be ad hominum/ad feminum (Latin seems to be a sexist language).

Or should it be ki te tangata? What about ki te wahine? (Māori seems to be a sexist language)

But at least du Fresne is talking about it. RNZ successfully getting a point across. You will inevitably annoy some people when you try and make cultural progress.