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‘Monocultural reporting:’ Major NZ news organisation apologises for racist portrayal of Māori issues

Major New Zealand news organisation apologies for its portrayal of Maori. Source: Image Source

News organisation Stuff has issued a public apology for the way it has portrayed Māori, after an internal investigation revealed bias and racism in reporting.

Major New Zealand news organisation Stuff has admitted its coverage of Māori issues from its first publication 160 years ago, until now, has marginalised Māori people.

Stuff, formerly Fairfax New Zealand, owns the country’s most read news website stuff.co.nz and publishes nine major newspapers, including New Zealand's second and third-highest circulation daily newspapers. The company launched an investigation of its coverage of Māori issues in June, which uncovered racism and marginalisation against Māori in its reporting.

The news company pointed to some key stories which demonstrated unfairness toward Māori people.

Editorial director Mark Stevens told SBS Dateline the investigation was prompted by concerns raised by its own staff about monocultural reporting, as well as an adjustment of its measures of success to trust, rather than traditional methods like clicks on articles -- this new strategy also saw Stuff stop posting content on Facebook.

“We decided that if we held the power to account, that we too were powerful and we should hold ourselves to account.”

Mr Stevens explained that there was no fixed agenda but it became clear there was strong evidence of unfair reporting.

“And the apology was born out of that.”

 Stuff used an editorial published after the attack on Parihaka in 1881, by 1600 armed troops and volunteers, described it as a “peaceful victory”. The attack was in response to a peaceful resistance towards the confiscation of Māori land.

That so-called win is now considered one of the worst acts committed against Māori by the Crown in New Zealand history.

Diversity in the newsroom has been highlighted as a key issue, with the Māori population sitting around 17 percent of the national total, compared to Stuff’s newsroom’s seven per cent.

In May, current CEO Sinead Boucher bought Stuff from its previous Australian owners, Nine and Fairfax.

Ms Boucher has since introduced a new charter with Te Tiriti o Waitangi - the Treaty of Waitangi between British colonizers and Moari - “at its core.”

The new charter lays out Stuff’s commitment to “redressing wrongs and to doing better in future ways that will help foster trust in our work, deeper relationships with Māori and better representation of contemporary Aotearoa.”

Mr Stevens told SBS Dateline he believes that this investigation would still have been possible under its previous ownership.

Shilo Kindo, who is a Ngāpuhi/Waikato-Tainui journalist and author, said that the apology is the first step of a long journey. Ms Kindo explains that mainstream media impacted how she perceived her own Māori identity growing up in New Zealand.

“The way I saw myself was formed through the mainstream media. For example, if there was a protest it was always ‘angry Māori’ or it was framed as ‘angry Māori people banning access to the beach’ there was never framing of the story with the whole context,” Ms Kindo told SBS Dateline.

“I always thought that Māori were the main perpetrators of child abuse, because that is what I saw in the media. It wasn’t until I became a journalist myself and I looked at the statistics and realised, actually, non-Māori are more responsible for child abuse.”

Ms Kindo has worked in newsrooms where she was the only Māori journalist and has seen firsthand the impact of lack of diversity in news coverage. She said actions taken after this apology is what will be most important.

Associate Professor Aroha Harris, an expert in Māori policy in history, told SBS Dateline that her first response was muted.

“For me it is a space to watch...but they are off to a cracking start,” she said.

“I think they still need to work out what this means for them going forward and how they want to recreate themselves into an anti-racist organisation. That, for me, has still got to come and will show in their actions.”

Professor Harris has said that it is positive the organisation recognised the damage that misrepresentation can do for a community.

“I am familiar with the way Māori protests have been portrayed as a reaction from an angry minority, with nothing real to say. This emphasises a disconnection from what Māori have to say now with historical issues that have not been addressed.”

Mark Stevens said that Stuff recognises that an apology isn’t enough and it is focused on how to improve their coverage going forward.

The organisation will focus on recruitment, consultation, training for staff and the introduction of new news section Pou Tiaki, which focuses on Māori issues and voices.