Posted on September 18, 2021 at 10:58 a.m.
In the 1980s, when the use of Maori te reo was discouraged, broadcaster Derek Fox became the face of Te Karere, a news program devoted to Maori news.
He led the establishment of the daily four-minute segment. It had to be on TV2, as it was back then, because TV1 didn’t want it.
Derek Fox (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungunu), journalist, brings a Maori perspective to both Maori and mainstream media. He was the co-founder of Mana magazine.
He said he was fortunate enough to be one of the few Maori te reo journalists for over 50 years.
“I decided I wanted to work as a broadcast reporter after hearing about it from university students while I was working in Gisborne at that time during my school vacation.
“I moved from Auckland to Wellington, where I applied for a broadcaster position. They did not give me the role of broadcasting but that of supplying programs made in New Zealand to other countries.
“One day I saw a job offer for a journalist in Gisborne and I applied.
“The information officer at the time came over and asked me if I had applied for this position. I told him yes. And he said “you won’t get the job of a journalist but you can train in the newsroom.”
Mr. Fox then produced the six-hour news bulletins and current affairs programs.
He said he had to fight for the Maori news to be published. It has always been viewed as a translation but not as a Maori perspective.
“They had Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Maori Language Week) every year, which I always thought was kind of a relatively symbolic thing to do.
“But in the 1970s there was enough pressure on the day-to-day manager that I did a few minutes of information in Maori te reo every evening.
“I think what they had in mind was that I would translate whatever was in the news at the time, but I was determined not to do exactly that.
“I wanted to do what I call ‘Maori News’ and not ‘Maori News’. Maori news is the news of interest to the Maori community and Maori news is simply the translation of whatever is in the mainstream media.
“One day, I went to see the producer at the time and wanted to tell him a story related to the Maori. His response was “I’ve already done my Maori story for the year” – that was the attitude back then.
Mr Fox said that as the only person in the building who spoke Te reo Maori, he had his difficulties, which he gradually overcame.
“There were people supporting what I was doing, but overall so many people in the organization felt there was no need to do Maori news segments. They said ‘but you understand English’.
“When Te Karere was finally accepted, it had to be just four minutes, the whole program and it had to be on TV 2 because they didn’t want it on TV1.
He remembers how some people celebrated Te Karere. At the Ruatoria pub, there was a rule that when Te Karere arrived, no one was allowed to have a beer until the end of the show.
Mr Fox said that at the time, the mainstream media disproportionately stigmatized Maori through their reporting.
“For example, someone who might have committed a heinous crime and the police were looking for him would be described as a ‘Māori of mixed race. When Dame Kiri Te Kanawa first came to prominence as an opera singer, she was described as partly pākehā or partly European.
Mr. Fox said he was pleasantly surprised by the progress of te reo Māori since becoming one of only two Maori broadcast journalists.
“Te reo Maori is the indigenous language of New Zealand, the original language, the first language heard in this country over a thousand years ago and it can be a functional language, because it is not a limited language. It is an adaptive language.
“I’ll give you a very simple example. The word rorohiko means computer. It’s a word that sums up what a computer is – an electric brain. In te reo Māori, we just look at what the thing is and start using our vocabulary to name it in a way that is easily understood by people.
“I am pleasantly surprised with today’s Aotearoa because that’s what I’ve always wanted – to normalize te reo Māori – and why we founded Te Karere. “