Maori TV takes on Te Kohanga Reo

Last updated 05:00 13/10/2013

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When Maori Television turned the cameras on an organisation as integral to Maori culture as Te Kohanga Reo, there were always going to be clashes.

The state-funded broadcaster's current affairs show Native Affairs last week won a court battle allowing it to air its investigation into the Te Kohanga Reo Trust Board - a body of seven, life-term, board-appointed members - which runs the network of full-language-immersion early childhood education centres.

The organisation last year received $9.1 million in government funding.

Native Affairs obtained credit card transaction details of board member Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi and her daughter-in-law Lynda Tawhiwhirangi, the general manager of the trust's charity-status subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga.

Mihingarangi Forbes led the investigation and fielded much of the criticism when the first two parts of the story were shown.

"When you're Maori, everyone's part of Kohanga," Forbes said. "Kohanga is something we've all grown up with and know and love and respect for over 30 years."

In Maoridom the usual six degrees of separation was "more like one degree" and with it came pressure.

"We all got emails and calls saying 'just leave it alone' and 'Why is a Maori organisation investigating another Maori organisation?' We should be able to put the microscope on our own."

One of the first complaints was from the Kohanga Reo board and was directed, unusually, to the board members of Maori TV, Forbes said.

Forbes said luckily Maori Television editor-in-chief Jim Mather rejected the high-level approach and pointed out there were formal avenues through which to pursue a grievance.

A Broadcasting Standards Authority complaint is pending.

"I think Maori journalism is grown up enough. It would be wrong not to investigate. We have to put our big-girl pants on and go and do it.

"We're uniquely placed to look at Maori institutions because we understand what they are trying to do, and often have sympathy for their aims. But we won't let them hide behind tikanga if they're not tika [correct]."

Forbes said they did consider the impact of the story on Kohanga Reo as an organisation and came to the conclusion that it would be an "empowering" story for the 451 kohanga reo around the country.

"We think it will ultimately result in a better and stronger model in serving our tamariki."

Native Affairs screens its investigation into the Te Kohanga Reo Trust Board on Monday at 8.30pm after the board dropped its pursuit of the injunction that had prevented the show's original airing.

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Going to court appears to have backfired on the trust as it was forced to swear affidavits in support of its efforts to block the story.

The affidavits contained information relevant to the story and Native Affairs was successful in having the judge rule that it could use the information in them in its broadcast.

- Sunday Star Times

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