Māori Television Service
After several years of agitation and negotiation, the Māori Television Service (MTS) was launched on 28 March 2004. The law that established the channel got two bangs for one buck: an important tool in the revitalisation of the Māori language was at last in place, and the dreamt-of Māori television presence became a reality.
From the very first frames of their debut broadcast, the Māori Television Service had to get it right. Politicians and partisan commentators had been sceptical of this television vision.
The aims of the channel were ambitious from the very start, despite limited funding. The expected hours of broadcast television were well exceeded, with a full complement of telegenic and effortlessly bilingual presenters on air. MTS runs two channels: the first is bilingual, the second in Māori. The Te Reo channel was launched on 28 March 2008.
While the channels exist because of the language, not enough people want to view Māori-language television to make it a viable commercial concern. From the beginning MTS has been subsidised by the government.
Māori Television audience
Māori Television’s relative editorial freedom allowed it to broadcast quality current affairs, documentary and drama, both locally made and international. The channel received a critical thumbs-up from viewers hungry for intelligent public-service television. Many audiences appreciated a programming style and presentation that was happily and respectfully Māori.
Increasing the audience for the channels remained the biggest challenge. Figures indicated that the majority of viewers were Pākehā. Questions remained as to whether the channels were dependent on fluent Māori speakers for their growth, or whether they would have to dilute the emphasis on the language to attract more viewers. In its first decade of existence, this young television service achieved that precarious balance between reo and ratings.
Māori Television portrayed a way of life that exists nowhere else on the planet, as Tangata whenua did in the 1970s. The channel’s annual Anzac Day broadcasts and events like the Rugby World Cup in 2011 also showed that Māori Television had the ability to represent New Zealand as a whole.
In the 2010s the mainstream channels broadcast a modest range of news, current affairs, youth programmes and documentaries serving both niche Māori and general audiences. Some of these shows reflected Pākehā views of Māori as people who are often in trouble with the law, or who struggle against the odds in New Zealand society.
Other productions have subverted these stereotypes by putting a Māori skew on a familiar format. The GC was a 'reality' series that followed the lives of Māori twenty-somethings living on the Gold Coast of Australia. While the show was hugely successful with viewers, questions were asked about whether it was the kind of production that warranted government funding.
In late 2014 TVNZ announced that it would be outsourcing the production of most of its Māori and Pacific programming, other than the news programme Te karere.
Māori television and te reo
Fifty years on from the beginnings of television in New Zealand, the Māori population was relatively young. The largest single Māori television audience were youth – not all of whom were fluent in te reo Māori.
The debate over whether television could achieve the stated purpose of helping to save a language continued. New aims and objectives and key performance indicators would be sought for new strategies and tactics. A greater task was to redefine the challenges in Māori terms and to answer them in a Māori way.
For Māori the presence of their native tongue on air was a powerful thing. In the 2000s a new generation of speakers and singers strode onto the television marae, in front of millions of people.