Exploring the impact of Māori Television

The channel has contributed to political and cultural revitalisation for Māori and shaped notions of nationhood, says Jo Smith.

Associate Professor Jo Smith, School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies
Associate Professor Jo Smith, School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies

It’s hard to imagine New Zealand without Māori Television. From Kai Time on the Road to its current affairs shows and Anzac Day broadcasts, it has become an established part of our media landscape since it launched in 2004.

Yet as New Zealand’s first national indigenous TV channel, Māori Television faces questions other public broadcasters are rarely asked. Is it Māori enough? How does it affect our ideas about identity? How effective has it been at promoting te reo Māori? And how do we measure its performance beyond ratings alone?

The complex dynamics underpinning Māori Television are the subject of a book by Associate Professor Jo Smith from the School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.

Associate Professor Smith contributes to Victoria’s ‘Enriching national culture’ area of academic distinctiveness.

A rare example of a Māori-centred media project, her book Māori Television: The First Ten Years is believed to be the first in-depth study of Māori Television by university researchers. It is her first book, although she has written book chapters and articles in journals such as Arena, Continuum, Transnational Cinemas, Settler Colonial Studies and AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples.

Associate Professor Smith (Waitaha, Kati Māmoe and Kāi Tahu) says the work reflects her long-term commitment to the cultural politics attached to television, media and popular culture more generally. A women’s studies major whose PhD topic examined colonial stereotypes in arthouse cinema, Associate Professor Smith has always been interested in the politics of identity.

Her book is the result of an externally funded project that was awarded a $770,000 Marsden Fund grant from Government funding managed by the Royal Society of New Zealand. The grant funded the three-year investigation into Māori Television’s contribution to political and cultural revitalisation for Māori, and how it has shaped notions of nationhood since its launch.

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In a nutshell

My research matters because … It provides different ways for thinking about how the media shapes our everyday and it reveals how this “everyday-ness” is the result of complex social, historical, economic and technological forces.

One of the inspirations for my research has been … My women’s studies undergraduate degree at the University of Otago, where I discovered powerful feminist theorists such as Trinh T. Minh-ha and Donna Haraway.

The best thing about my job is … Having the opportunity to build and share ideas in the classroom in ways that deepen my research activities.

My career highlight so far has been … Having my research acknowledged nationally through two Marsden-funded projects.

My advice to aspiring researchers is … Follow your intuition and your passion when designing your research project and never underestimate the value of critical, reflexive thinking.