Stuff apologises to Māori for 160 years of racism

By Te Ao - Māori News

"Ka whapāha mātou ki te Maori."

With those unprecedented kupu, New Zealand's largest news company, known as Stuff, today apologised for not always fairly representing tangata whenua. It said after an internal investigation it had found it had been racist, contributing to stigma, marginalization and stereotypes against Maōri.

Stuff, formerly owned by Nine (previously Fairfax) and recently bought out by chief executive Sinead Bouchier, resulted from mergers of regional newspapers over the past 160 years, with its news website now presenting much of its news coverage.

Today that included the apology to Māori, which it presented in both English and Māori.

Stuff said its findings unearthed numerous examples of journalism practices denying Māori an equitable voice in Aotearoa.

Now Stuff is introducing a Treaty of Waitangi based charter, looking to take on more Māori journalists and highlighting changes it's already established such as a Māori reporting portal and media partnership with Māori Television.

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.”

Under the headline "Our Truth, Tā Mātou Pono: For three centuries we've failed to represent Māori fairly," Stuff shows the result of its internal investigation of its coverage historically and to this day of Māōri.

Historic racism

Stuff's investigation cites: "What a fine thing it is to be a Maori,” the Waikato Times wrote in 1872, two months after the paper was founded.

“The natives are habitually idle, drunken, and improvident, and consequently they are at some seasons of the year not too well off for food. What does the Government do?

“Why it steps in, gives them flour and sugar and feeds them; gives them wheat to sow their lands with, ploughs to till the soil, and horses to drag their ploughs.”

Stuff says that like many newspapers of the era, the Waikato Times was founded by settlers. It went a step further than most: In its first editorial, the paper declared it would “watch over the interests of the Waikato settlers”.

Stuff says over much of this period, newspapers functioned as political instruments, for example, the Taranaki Herald, which covered one of the most significant events in New Zealand history, the siege on Parihaka.

"We now understand this event as a sickening atrocity: peaceful Māori were beaten, raped and imprisoned, their homes and taonga destroyed by government forces. The Crown formally apologised in 2017."

'Māori activist' label

Coming closer to modern day , Stuff noted that as one of the most significant land marches in New Zealand history thundered into Auckland on September 23, 1975, led by kuia 

Led by Te Rārawa leader Whina Cooper (who was later knighted in 1981), thousands of people walked across the Harbour Bridge on their hīkoi to Parliament in Wellington. But the Auckland Star, was not interested, the Stuff investigation says. It published two stories about the march, one on its front page.

“Falls, fright as marchers sway bridge,” the headline read.

Stuff notes that, rather than explore the structural issues that inspired the hīkoi, the paper explored the structural integrity of a bridge.

The investigation also details how words such as “activist” and “radical” have been predominantly used to describe Māori, a stereotype of Māori as angry and in revolt.

"Since the mid-1990s, the term “Māori activist” has appeared in our coverage almost 2000 times. The phrase “Maori radical” has appeared around 500 times.

"We have used activist or radical to describe a range of leaders including Dame Tariana Turia, Moana Jackson, Professor Ranginui Walker, Dr Pita Sharples, Te Ururoa Flavell, Dame Whina Cooper, Willie Jackson, and Marama Davidson, among others."

A search for “Pākehā activist” returned 14 results, only one of which is a news story. The only person Stuff has ever described this way is former Green MP Sue Bradford.

"We have, among other things, perpetuated stereotypes and filtered our view of the world through a monocultural lens, reflecting the views of a predominantly Pākehā newsroom and readership."