TVNZ’s mired in Maori gaffe

Ellis' remarks under fire

TVNZ chief exec Rick Ellis is in hot water for a racial gaffe.

He told a parliamentary committee that cop show “Police Ten-7,” which features real crime reconstructions, helps the broadcaster meet charter obligations to New Zealand’s indigenous Maori culture.

It may have been the worst thing he could say in a country where Maori feature disproportionately in crime and in the prison population.

The remarks were made at an annual Maori select committee hearing, at which TVNZ is routinely trashed for its lack of Maori content in primetime.

Maori make up about 12% of the population and recently won a legal case ensuring government funding for their own channel, Maori TV.

But TVNZ still has obligations to Maori in its charter.

Politicos in the Maori select committee asked Ellis what programs fulfilled TVNZ’s charter responsibility to reflect Maori perspectives.

Ellis reeled off local shows, such as “Shortland Street,” that include Maori actors or contestants in gameshows.

He said that, in the end, TVNZ is a commercial broadcaster and could not put Maori language shows on primetime.

But the comments about crime shows and sports drew frowns from the hearing.

Senior National Party pol Georgina te Heuheu said the suggestion that crime shows meet obligations to the Maori was “outrageous.”

Later, Prime Minister Helen Clark joined the fray and said the pubcaster CEO needed to take a course in cultural understanding.

Ellis acknowledged later that the examples he cited had been “unwise.”

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