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Radio NZ - loss of Maaori news bulletins

12 Aug 1999

Ms Sharon Crosbie, Chief executive
New Zealand


I understand that on 9 July, by your decision, the three daily news bulletins in Maori were dropped from National Radio. This was particularly momentous, since I also understand that Maori news bulletins had previously been running for 57 years.

I do not know anything of the internal division of responsibility and funding, and the particular developments, which motivated this unfortunate decision. These are in fact beside the point.

As the national public radio service of your country, you have a unique duty to serve the full range of your country's society. By summarily withdrawing a service in your country's indigenous language (still understood by 5% of New Zealanders), you are betraying an important part of that duty. Furthermore, you lay New Zealand Radio open to the charge that it is a service only for the white New Zealander.

5% is an important minority in itself, but the Maoris are not just a minority. They represent the earliest inhabitants of your islands, as well as forming approximately 10% of the NZ population. According to an authoritative source (Barbara Grimes ed., Ethnologue, 1996) approximately half of them are still capable of understanding Maori, the indigenous language of their ancestors.

Those of us involved in the struggle to maintain and foster indigenous languages all over the world are particularly saddened by this decision, since recent developments in New Zealand have given some hope that Maori might at last be regaining ground, not least through more enlightened public policy. (As a sign of this, we are receiving three presentations on Maori in schools at our Foundation's conference this year (Maynooth, Ireland, 17-19 September), which focuses on the role of education in language maintenance. An article in this week's National Geographic magazine also represents Maori in New Zealand as a beacon of hope for indigenous languages.)

I am confident that you will be receiving a storm of protest, nationally and internationally, as a result of this decision, and trust that you understand that far more is at stake here than the constraints of the annual budget of Radio New Zealand. Radio is expecially important in maintaining a favourable background for indigenous language use in a developed modern state, so that by withdrawing your service, you are not simply disregarding Maori but actually making its survival less likely, with all that implies for the long-term peace and internal well-being of New Zealand society.

English language broadcasts about Maori affairs are no substitute. An indigenous language provides a means of sharing a distinctive viewpoint not just of local affairs but of the world as a whole. You show total misunderstanding of what is at issue if you maintain that the requirement in RNZ's charter to provide 250 hours a year of programmes promoting the Maori language and culture can be met by English or bilingual programmes about the Maori.

I hope and trust, on behalf of all the members of our Foundation world-wide, that means may yet be found to reverse this pernicious decision before serious damge is done to New Zealand's future.

Yours truly

Nicholas Ostler

Chair, Radio New Zealand board (same Address)

Derek Lowe, Chairman, Radio Broadcasters Association
PO Box 3762, AUCKLAND CITY, New Zealand
Ph: (09) 378 0788 Fax: (09) 378 8180

Foundation for Endangered Languages (UK regd charity, 250 members worldwide)

Nicholas Ostler
Foundation for Endangered Languages
Registered Charity 1070616

Batheaston Villa, 172 Bailbrook Lane
Bath BA1 7AA England
+44-1225-85-2865 fax +44-1225-85-9258

Date: Mon, 9 Aug 1999 11:23:29 +0100

Here is the reply from Sharon Crosbie of Radio New Zealand to my letter protesting at the withdrawal of Maori language news bulletins from this public service network.

Dear Mr Ostler

Sharon Crosbie, Chief Executive of Radio New Zealand, has asked me to acknowledge your facsimile letter dated 17th July 1999 and responds as follows:

The debate about Maori language has arisen from a number of perspectives that will be difficult for external agencies to understand or appreciate. It is correct that the Maori language news bulletins have ceased. The Maori development agency which funded them deemed that National Radio might not be the most effective way of broadcasting Maori language news and redirected their support to the large network of 21 iwi stations which broadcast in the reo language. These were not in existence when National Radio first began broadcasting in reo.

Being a publicly funded Crown-owned company with finite funding, we are not able to fund the news and news gathering elements of Maori language news as well as meet all the other elements of our Charter. This requires us to promote Maori language and culture.

However, the debate about the Maori language news, has somewhat lost sight of the wider issue which is that of the Maori language itself. In cooperation with the Maori Language Commission and other interested and informed parties, we have devised new programming initiatives which are designed to encourage a greater degree of bilingualism. For example, the 260 hours each year of Maori programming will include reo and English where appropriate in ways that make the use of the Maori language natural and accessible. We are looking at ways we can continue Maori language on air that does not involve the more expensive news gathering elements of news bulletins. These might be in the form of short comments, backgrounders, stories or anecodotes from Maoridom which are well presented and produced 'language gems' - in ways that attract a wide range of listeners.

In addition, we contend that producing programmes about the language, its evolution, historical and contemporary usage, and documentaries and features about Maori people with interesting stories to tell and which include the Maori language as it is appropriate to do so, are potentially of greater interest to a much wider audience than a few minutes of Maori 'news' accessible to only a few. These initiatives are far more likely to attract listeners to the richness and diversity of the language.

Far from withdrawing from our obligations in this respect, we feel we are making every effort to promote the language more widely and accessibly.

Yours sincerely

Sharon Crosbie


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