White Media, Brown Aotearoa

Lack of Diversity in NZ Media a Curse on Fiji
By Thakur Ranjit Singh

An analysis of the NZ Herald editorials over the last two years will show that the stance of the paper on Fiji and the Pacific is the same as that shared by the NZ government. I am not too sure who sings from whose song sheet, but the fact remains that there is only one song sheet from which the mainstream media and the NZ Foreign policy on Fiji are decided. To a great extent, this is because of lack of diversity ,not only in the NZ Mainstream newsrooms, but also in policy-making government departments in an increasing cosmopolitan Aotearoa. Consequently, we end up with a blinkered vision of Fiji and the Pacific.

This very pertinent issue raised at the Pacific Islands Media Association (PIMA) AGM at AUT Conference room, Auckland on Friday 1 October appears to have rattled the NZ Prime Minister John Key. This was when on Monday 4 October, Paul Henry, in his popular, though at times, controversial Breakfast programme on TV New Zealand repeated the issue that was raised in the conference. 
This author, in the panel discussion on media standards, repeated his concerns about the slowness of the ‘browning’ of the mainstream New Zealand media newsrooms which failed to reflect the changing colour of the country. This was concurred generally by the panellists Vaimoana Tapaleao, a reporter at NZ Herald, Richard Pamatatau, a reporter at Radio NZ and Niva Retimanu, a newsreader from Radio Newstalk ZB. It however was also agreed that some encouraging positive developments in this area were evident.

It is the lack of diversity that tends to create stereotypes where the mainstream media like the NZ Herald still tends to call the NZ-born Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand as Indo-Fijian, Fiji Indian, Indian or Pacific Islander, at the reporter’s whim, without ever referring to the Jewish ancestry of Prime Minister John Key. Neither do they refer to the ancestor of many”white” looking people with other senior positions. An example is Irene van Dyk, the flag bearer of the New Zealand team at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth games. Just because she looks “white” nobody raised any issues about her being a South African while the blinkered and, at times, ill-informed media tends to get its stories wrong on Fiji and other ethnic issues because of the newsrooms being too white.

So appears to be the case with TVNZ as well. On Monday’s Breakfast Henry asked John Key whether Sir Anand was a New Zealander and whether he was going to pick someone who looked more like a New Zealander next time as New Zealand’s Governor General. Perhaps the issue such divisive views and opinions raise is, what does it take for a “brown” person to become a New Zealander, and how come Sir Anand, though born in NZ is still an Indo-Fijian while John Key is no longer Jewish but a New Zealander? Do you need to be a white or Anglo Saxon to be a New Zealander?  What does a New Zealander look like, anyway?

As long as NZ media in an increasing cosmopolitan Aotearoa remains relatively “white” we will continue to get such blinkered views from journalists who only see things in the conservative black and white situations, as does Paul Henry. The future of better race relations in NZ hinges on better informed, well balanced and diversified newsrooms with sensitivities for the different ethnicities that increasingly populate this nation.


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