April 01, 2022
HE WHAKAARO | OPINION: Māori and broadcasting: kupu we don’t want to hear
By Atakohu Middleton
Kaiako/Lecturer, Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau/Auckland University of Technology
The country’s telly and radio watchdog, the Broadcasting Standards Authority, has just released its latest survey on what language we find unacceptable on the airwaves and why.
Its 2022 survey looks at 31 swear words and terms related to sexuality and ethnicity and looks at their acceptability in various contexts, ranging from news and current affairs presenting and interviewing to stand-up comedy, music videos, songs, sports commentary and talkback radio.
The list includes two cusses from te reo: kai a te kurī, loosely translated as “you’re food for the dog” and pokokōhua or “boiled head”, a contemptuous term that reduces one’s head, the most tapu part of the body, to the status of food. Both of these terms act to strip people of their tapu and their mana.
This is the second time that the survey has included te reo Māori (ngā mihi to the BSA for reflecting the times) and also includes the word hori, which it didn’t define. Hori is the transliteration of George, a popular name in colonial times that eventually became a pejorative term for Māori men.
Of the three phrases, hori was the most offensive term to tangata whenua. A total of 55% of Māori in the survey said it was “fairly or totally unacceptable” in on radio and television. The figure for pokokōhua was 44% and for kai a te kurī 39%.
Hori, of course, is understood by all adult Māori as we all speak English.
However, the survey, which involved a representative sample of more than 1,000 people over 18 years of age, asked people whether they recognised the two reo-Māori phrases and how they felt about their use in broadcasting, rather than probing their fluency and teasing out any visceral differences in perception and reception between speakers and non-speakers. Context and our sensibilities give words their power.
More clear-cut are Māori responses to English-language slurs and swearing, which is unsurprising given that we all speak te reo Pākehā. As Waatea is a family show, I’m going to be euphemistic here: the N-word is fairly unacceptable or unacceptable to 73% of the iwi, followed by curry-muncher (67%), the C-word (62%), and faggot (62%).
Overall, the N-word and the C-word were the top two most unacceptable words in broadcasting, whatever the context and whatever the social group. Of course, what we consider offensive also depends on a whole range of factors that intertwine with context, among them ideology, identity, relationships, the historical context, and the medium.
Interestingly, since the last survey in 2018, national tolerance toward racial and cultural insults has decreased. I wonder how much the 2019 Christchurch massacre and our increasing understanding of the rhetoric of racism has played into this decreasing tolerance.
The research also points out that the language we are prepared to accept on tv and radio varies depending on context: the survey found that we let scripted television drama get away with far more swearsies than a reality television programme or callers and hosts on a talkback radio station.
As a nation, according to the survey, we are most sensitive to the language used on talkback by both callers and hosts Recall that last year, former Auckland mayor John Banks lost his job as a MediaWorks talkback host after endorsing a caller’s assertion that Māori were a “stone-age people with a stone-age culture”. Unacceptable language, but a swift and entirely acceptable response.
Radio Waatea and its board would like to advise that the opinions posted are those of Atakohu Middleton and not the views of Radio Waatea, its management or its board.