Covid crisis in Māori TV and Film

By Will Trafford

Ahikāroa, Casketeers and Find Me A Māori Bride are undoubtedly some of the most-watched and beloved tv shows of the past few years, but Māori creators say content like it is in a fight for survival in the face of Covid-19 and government inaction.

The calls from what is said to be an industry in crisis are being spearheaded by Ngā Aho Whakaari, the representative body of Māori working in screen, which says the past 18 months of delayed productions - due to lockdown and increased costs because of social distancing and PPE on sets - has pushed the industry to the brink.

“Māori contractors in this industry are out of work, Māori producers have to cover costs out of pocket, the Māori sector is already underfunded in comparison to mainstream and Covid-19 is just going to widen that gap,” says Ngā Aho Whakaari chair Anahera Higgins.

Higgins says Māori content creators would prefer to keep the drama on-screen but their hand was forced when the government extended access to Covid-19 Relief Funding for the industry last month, that excluded productions funded by Māori commissioning agency Te Māngai Pāho.

"The main issue is disparity for support for Māori productions versus mainstream. Both sectors of the industry have been impacted,” she says.

Ngā Aho Whakaari said they initially thought the decision was some sort of oversight only to learn that was not the case.

“There's no allowance for TMP funded productions, which is the principal funding body for Māori. These organisations are pretty much left high and dry.”

Higgins says the issue is the relief fund was established by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage for productions green-lit by mainstream commissioning agency NZ On Air.

Te Ao Māori News approached the responsible ministers Willie Jackson (Māori Development) and Kris Faafoi (Broadcasting) and they confirmed no such fund had been established for Te Māngai Pāho productions.

‘Te Māngai Pāho is in direct contact with content producers to assess what support they need, including whether deadlines and deliverables need to be adjusted. They will keep monitoring the situation closely, particularly as Tāmaki Makaurau opens up further.’

‘We will consider additional responses if required,’ the ministers said.

That explanation says Higgins, 'doesn’t cut it' with content creators.

"The situation exposes disadvantages for Māori caused by legislation because Māori media is overseen in a different industry from the rest of the sector.

‘We understand from our community that support for Covid related causes are coming out of TMP baseline funding, which means there's even less money for Māori content," she said.

Higgins says the Māori screen sector is already disproportionately underfunded but punching above its weight. The concern she says is what will not be made as Covid continues to wreak havoc within Māori media.

"Despite everything, our production community is working really hard to deliver quality programming. We're really excited with some of the stuff that's coming out this year.

‘"I guess what we're asking is why do we have to do a haka to ask government to support the sector?’’

Higgins says Ngā Aho Whakaari are appealing for the minister to address the structural issues between NZ on Air and Te Māngai Pāho.

"I think what we're asking for is equal treatment and regardless of who owns the purse strings. We are a treaty partner, and we need to sit at that same space, we would like to see more support, far more support for the Māori production community.

"If initiatives are released by the government to help the production sector with Covid production [we] shouldn't have to suffer policy divisions within the government. It should be absolutely available, all the barriers should be removed."