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Te reo Maori revitalisation — brought to you by . . . television

Opinion Piece

Confirmation the word Maori will not be removed from Maori Television’s name will be welcomed by those who want to see our indigenous language not only survive but prosper.

There was widespread reaction when stories broke this week that as part of a review of its brand, the station was considering removing “Maori” from its name. Politicians of all stripes were quick to respond.

That has been put to rest by chief executive Paora Maxwell who has said this action was never actually contemplated.

It would have been particularly inappropriate if a decision to remove “Maori” from the station’s name was being promoted during Maori Language Week.

Like all free-to-air channels, Maori Television faces challenges from new competitors like Netflix and Lightbox.

One of the aims of the review is to increase advertising revenue to offset a declining contribution, after inflation, from the Government — which has not changed its funding since 2008.

Interestingly a high proportion of those watching Maori Television are non-Maori, attracted by good films and intelligent current affairs programming like Native Affairs. Current affairs is increasingly neglected by the country’s two main free-to-air channels.

Maori Television is watched by 1.5 million viewers a month including half of all Maori over five and one third of other New Zealanders. Polling shows it is supported by 84 percent of all New Zealanders.

The Maori language itself continues to remain under pressure. There are conflicting figures but the general consensus is that about 3.7 percent of New Zealanders can hold a conversation in te reo.

The stats are more encouraging when it comes to Maori. A recent Ministry of Social Development report said 125,352 Maori, or about one in five, can hold a basic conversation in te reo.

There is a lot of work still to be done to secure the future of te reo, and Maori Television has an important role to play in that. Changing its name would be a major backwards step.