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‘Maori news’, not ‘news in Maori’

In the 1980s, when the use of te reo Māori was discouraged, broadcaster Derek Fox became the face of Te Karere, a news programme dedicated to Māori news.

He drove the establishment of the four-minute daily segment. It had to be on TV2, as it was then, because TV1 did not want it.

Derek Fox (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu), journalist, provides a Māori viewpoint both in Māori and mainstream media. He was the co-founder of Mana magazine.

He said he had been lucky to be one of the few te reo-speaking Māori journalists for over 50 years.

“I decided I wanted to work as a broadcast reporter after hearing about it from some university students while I was working in Gisborne at that time during my school holidays.

“I moved from Auckland to Wellington, where I applied for a job as a broadcaster. They did not give me the broadcasting role but gave me the role of supplying New Zealand-made programmes to other countries.

“One day I saw a vacancy advertised for a reporter in Gisborne and I applied for it.

“The head of news at the time came and asked if I had applied for this job. I told him yes. And he said ‘you won't get the job as a journalist but you can train in the newsroom'.

Mr Fox went on to produce the six o'clock news bulletins, and current affairs programmes.”

He said he had to struggle to get Māori news published. It was always seen as a translation but not as a Māori perspective.

“They had Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Māori language week) each year which I always thought was a relatively token sort of thing to do.

“But in the 1970s, there was enough pressure on the head of current affairs to get me to do a couple of minutes of news in te reo Māori each night.

“I think what they had in mind was that I would translate whatever was in the news at the time but I was determined not to do just that.

“I wanted to do what I call, ‘Māori News' not ‘News in Māori'. Māori news is the news of interest to the Māori community and news in Māori is simply the translation of whatever is in the mainstream media.

“One day I went to the producer at the time and wanted to pitch him a Māori-related story. His response was ‘I have already done my Māori story for the year' — this was the attitude in those days.

Mr Fox said as the only person in the building who spoke te reo Māori he had his struggles, which he gradually overcame.

“There were some people who were supportive of what I was doing but by and large so many people in the organisation thought there was no need to do Māori news segments. They used to say ‘but you understand English'.

“When Te Karere was finally agreed to it had to be four minutes long, only, the whole programme and it had to be on TV 2 because they didn't want it on TV1.

He remembers how some celebrated Te Karere. At the Ruatoria pub, there was a rule that when Te Karere came up nobody was allowed to get a beer until the show was over.

Mr Fox said in those days mainstream media stigmatised Māori disproportionately through their news stories.

“For example, somebody who might've done a heinous crime and police were looking for them, they'd be described as a ‘half-caste Māori'. When Dame Kiri Te Kanawa gained prominence as an opera singer, she was described as part-Pākehā or part-European.”

Mr Fox says he is pleasantly surprised at the progress of te reo Māori since his time as one of only two Māori broadcast journalists.

“Te reo Māori is the indigenous language of New Zealand, the original language, the first language that was heard in this country more than a thousand years ago and it can be a functioning language, because it's not a limited language. It's an adaptive language.

“I will give you a very simple example. The word rorohiko means computer. It is a word which encapsulates what a computer is — an electric brain. In te reo Māori we simply look at what the thing is and start utilising our vocabulary to name it in a way easily understood by people.

“I am pleasantly surprised at today's Aotearoa because this is what I had always wanted — to normalise te reo Māori — and why we founded Te Karere.”

DEREK FOX

  1. James Lennox Mahoney, Waiheke says:

    A wonderful career. He and others who inspired the revitalisation of reo Māori have carried many more with them, including this elderly Pākehā who learned some reo Māori in his dotage. E te rangatira, he pai rawa tau mahi. He rereke rawa tenei kōrero ki ngā whakaaro rāpahi o Clive Bibby, i tā i ēnei whārangi inanahi. What a contrast to the nonsensical opinion by Clive Bibby published in The Herald yesterday. It’s true that reo Māori is being normalised. I retired in 2015, aged 65, and at that time very few people at Fairfax Media spoke reo Māori. I returned briefly in 2017 and 2018 and a huge change was evident. People like Bibby who believe a Dutch name is appropriate to a part of the Pacific and Polynesia are fortunately on the decline. Ko Aotearoa te ingoa tuturo o ngā motu nei. Ko te reo Māori te reo tuatahi o aua motu. Kia kore ai e ngaro.