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Sunday, 19 May 2019 10:24 pm

Outsourcing Maori programming still raw, but the show goes on

TVNZ_building400x300

OUTSOURCING DEAL: Good for producers, but uncertainty still remains for future of Maori programming.  IMAGE: Gabriel Pollard/Wikipedia commons

TELEVISION NEW ZEALAND may have outsourced their Maori and Pacific programming but independent companies like Scottie Productions are not asking any questions – they are hitting the ground running.

It has taken on Waka Huia, the award-winning documentary series first broadcast in 1987 that documents stories from within the Maori world.

Company director of Scottie Productions Megan Douglas, of Te Awara, was shocked and saddened by the TVNZ move when it was announced.

“I started my career at TVNZ working as a researcher on Marae when I was in my early 20’s. The department have continued to be like whanau to me,” says Ms Douglas.

She says the outsourcing provides an opportunity for a revival to Waka Huia with fresh input from creative minds.

She also cites jobs and invaluable experience for all those involved at all levels of production, as well as a degree of security and encouragement to grow her business to support the Maori production community.

She says most of the staff who wanted to continue on the programme have done so.

“Recording the stories of people who have contributed to our nation and our identity has always been a passion for me. It’s a privilege to be the custodian of such amazing stories,” says Ms Douglas.

During research for this story it became increasingly clear the only beneficiaries of the outsourcing might well be producers like Ms Douglas, and if there are others, only time will tell.

The outsourcing was loud in the media.

Columnist David Slack, writer for Metro Magazine and radio and TV commentator called the outsourcing a “damn shame” on Frontline, and the Pacific Freedom Forum called the outsourcing a “threat to democracy”.

Broadcasting spokesperson for Labour MP Kris Faafoi said TVNZ’s washing its hands of Pacific and Maori programming shows the National Government has given a clear mandate.

“Make money and forget about serving Kiwi audiences programmes that reflect our own cultures,” he said.

Some questioned TVNZ’s commitment to Maori in New Zealand, and others feared for the future of Maori programming and content in New Zealand.

The passionate response to the announcement may have been the reason it was difficult to source comment from willing parties, Maori TV included.

One communications manager remarked that it was understandable, due to the news in the industry being too raw. Another informed me my chances of speaking to someone were very few because of the negative press.

Those who would speak had tangible concerns about the future of Maori programming.

People like Whetu Fala, of Nga Rauru, chair of Nga Aho Whakaari, the national representative body for Maori working in film and television in New Zealand.

Ms Fala has worked in broadcasting for more than 26 years, directing and editing television, film and documentary, starting out as a TVNZ apprentice.

She is not convinced the outsourcing is a good idea.

The move is a clear signal that the government has decided to put TVNZ up for sale, something already bought and paid for by New Zealanders, she says.

Ms Fala says there is no guarantee that, if TVNZ is sold down the line, the new owners will continue to reflect New Zealand’s culture.

There would be no obligation to broadcast any Maori content, or anything about New Zealand at all, she says.

Ms Fala recalls when the Coronation Street time slot was moved, and the uproar that resulted.

“I doubt that there will be that type of reaction if Maori programming was taken off TVNZ,” she says.

Ms Fala acknowledges and congratulates the producers who won the opportunity to take over the iconic shows, but feels uncomfortable with the uncertainty the outsourcing has created.

Larry Parr, another industry veteran, says the fundamental issue is that TVNZ is no longer a public broadcaster.

“A lot of people still hanker after it being the public broadcaster, but it’s not. It’s been a commercial broadcaster for a long time,” says Mr Parr.

Mr Parr, of Ngāti Raukawa and Muaūpoko, is the former head of programming for Maori TV and currently works for Te Māngai Pāho as television funding manager.

He has worked in the industry since 1978, and produced films like Sleeping dogs and Magik and Rose.

He agreed to speak to Newswire but only from a personal perspective, and stresses that his views do not represent those of Te Māngai Pāho.

Mr Parr has built a stile over the outsourcing issue.

“I’m agnostic on it. I don’t have a strong view either way,” he says.

Mr Parr says the quality of the programmes will improve because there is often more creativity outside than there is inside.

“I think you will see those programmes get another facelift and be a bit stronger. All in all, I understand it and I think there will be some positive impacts.”

He also spoke about the benefits for the independent production companies.

“It’s only one contact each but it means you have that base contract and assuming you do a good job with it, it actually provides you with a bit of breathing space,” he says.

“I don’t think you would worry about where the rent is coming from.”

Mr Parr says he understands the outsourcing from a business point of view, one that looks as if it is preparing for sale.

“I don’t think it’s sensible for us ever to look toward TVNZ as a public broadcaster. That’s gone. If we want a public broadcaster, we should be looking at Maori TV. That would be good for Maori TV in my view,” he says.

He says TVNZ has a statutory obligation to screen programmes that have a Maori perspective but there is no number of hours or percentages stated.

From a funding perspective, Mr Parr and Ms Douglas both agree: more funding is needed for Maori programming and content.

Ms Douglas says Maori programming is at a stage where it is clear programmes need better funding to be able to produce high quality television.

“Maori TV has not only created a platform for Maori programming to flourish, but it’s also created competition amongst the independent community,” she says.

“With competition comes innovation and a desire for excellence.”

Mr Parr says he’s hopeful about funding increases in the future, although admitted they are hard to predict.

He mentions Deputy Prime Minister Bill English’s speeches where he makes the effort to speak in Te Reo Maori.

If Mr English’s own behaviour indicates that he sees the value in Te Reo Maori, then a sensible budget might be rewarded at some point, says Mr Parr.

So, does Maori programming have a bright future in New Zealand? Producers might think so, but only if funding levels continue to rise.

If TVNZ is sold, and no requirement for new owners to continue Maori and Pacific programming is put in place, then that could be a fundamental change.

Maori TV could stem the tide and take advantage, as they expand digitally and adapt to the changing ways in which people consume media content.

But maybe not, as Whetu Fala poignantly ended our conversation:

“It cannot be an island that stands by itself.”

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