Are broadcaster Willie Jackson's continued attacks on RNZ helping to destabilise New Zealand's last outpost of public broadcasting? And why does he remain silent about the lack of Maori content on Mediawork's network of television and radio stations?

IN 2009 TVNZ axed Willie Jackson's Eye To Eye panel discussion show. Jackson claimed he had been shut out of TVNZ because he was an 'opinionated Maori', despite the fact that his show had screened for some five years.

Since then Willie Jackson, the 'opinionated Maori', has appeared regularly on TVNZ - giving his opinions. Last year he also featured on a show called The DNA Detectives, described as a 'series that takes DNA samples from celebrities and uses it to reveal their genetic heritage, tracing their distant ancestors and providing a tantalising insight into some of what made them who they are today.'

While Jackson  has continued to appear regularly on TVNZ, he has largely been silent as TVNZ has  dropped any commitment to public broadcasting and become the commercial broadcaster that it is now.

Willie Jackson
But while Jackson seems relaxed about New Zealand being one of the few advanced countries to not have a national public broadcaster like the BBC in the UK or the ABC in Australia, he has been more than keen to remind RNZ of what he perceives it to be its public broadcasting obligations. According to Jackson, RNZ has failed Maori.

As Maori make up some fifteen percent of the population, Jackson thinks RNZ should be providing 15 percent Maori content and is demanding that a quota be introduced.

Last month, to back his argument that RNZ was failing Maori, he waved about an 'audit' by Te Whakaruruhau – the umbrella group for the 21 iwi radio stations and which is headed by Willie Jackson - which purportedly showed Maori content made up just 0.1 percent of RNZ National’s broadcasts over a three month period.

Joining in the criticism of RNZ was the Editor of The Dally Blog, Martyn Bradbury, in an opinion piece for the Waatea News website. Bradbury co hosts -with Willie Jackson - Waatea 5th Estate which began broadcasting on Face Television (Sky 93) last week. It also streams on the Waatea News and The Daily Blog websites.

The 'audit' was shot down in flames when RNZ revealed that all Te Whakaruruhau had done was record, on a daily basis, the account of stories listed on the Te Manu Korihi page of the RNZ website. RNZ's Mediawatch show examined the figures:

"Mediawatch took a look at the first two days of the 12-week Te Whakaruruhau audit which started on Monday 9 November 2015. The audit found just two Maori stories were broadcast that day totaling about six minutes on air, but by Mediawatch’s count, RNZ broadcast one hour, 11 minutes and 40 seconds of content that day."

RNZ recognises though it can make improvements and RNZ CEO and editor in chief Paul Thompson has outlined the network's long tern Maori strategy  that "represents an increased commitment to creating high-quality Maori content, supporting te reo Maori and fostering Maori journalism."

None of this has satisfied Willie Jackson who continues to call for a quota.

Carol Hirschfeld
But while he continues to attack RNZ Jackson is happy - and supportive - of a New Zealand media that has descended into a swamp of hyper-commercialisation with a small number of companies controlling a media environment where everything and everyone is considered fair game for commercial exploitation.

Indeed Jackson is employed by one of the main commercial operators - Mediaworks. He co-hosts an afternoon show on Radio Live with Ali Mau. There wouldn't  be anything approaching 15 percent Maori content on Mediawork's network of television and radio stations.Or on Radio Live Or, in fact, on Jackson's own show. Apparently its one rule for RNZ and a completely different one for the commercial media.

Jackson is sensitive to criticism of Mediaworks. Last night's Waatea 5th Estate featured a  discussion on public broadcasting. In response to some barbed comments about Mediaworks, an irritated Jackson was heard to declare that 'he had friends in Mediaworks'. Perhaps he thinks criticising Mediaworks is not 'the Maori way'.

It's more than ironic that Willie Jackson's new found political ally, Martyn Bradbury, who regularly bemoans the parlous state of the commercial media in this country, would join in the attacks on the country's last public broadcaster. Yet, like Jackson, he makes no comment about the lack of Maori content on commercial radio.

But Jackson's attacks on RNZ can only serve to undermine the network. They certainly don't help. This is something RNZ Head of Content, Carol Hirschfeld, pointed out on Mediawatch last Sunday. She was clearly angry. The commercial media corporates are no friends of public broadcasting and they must be delighted by the continued attacks on RNZ by the likes of Jackson and Bradbury. No doubt they hope they will contribute to the destabilisation of New Zealand's last outpost of public broadcasting.


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