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Are some Māori activists losing their “hands off” status by getting too extreme with their rhetoric?

In brief

  • Media has often ignored or downplayed divisive rhetoric from Māori activists. 
  • There are signs that tide might be turning as tensions fueled by some Māori activists’ racist language ticks up.  
  • Criticism of Te Pāti Māori’s leaders’ inflammatory statements is now surfacing in mainstream media.
  • Mainstream politicians and journalists are calling for an end to the “double standard” enjoyed by TPM leadership. 

Timid journalism meets opportunistic and inflammatory rhetoric

Mainstream media looking the other way when Māori activists use racist and divisive rhetoric may be finally coming to an end. 

In an apparent uptick in tensions, Te Pāti Māori (TPM) led nationwide protests on Budget Day 2024. Their leaders along with publicly funded officials attributed contentious policies to racism. These include repealing section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act, the repeal of the Māori Health Authority, referendums on Māori wards, etc.

This is despite several of these issues being pitched to voters as measures against ethnic division and a rejection of race based policies. Many of the pricey initiatives themselves have dubious outcomes despite lofty promises to improve Māori well-being. 

Yet, according to TPM leaders, the situation is so dire that they have declared their intention to set up a “Māori parliament” in response to the “white economy.” 

Media has been slow on the pick-up

Oftentimes the mainstream media has let the partisan anti-government opinions of public officials and the explosive and reckless rhetoric from activists go without pushback. At other times, they have tried to play it down or explain it away

Recent examples of ethnic and racially charged rhetoric are too numerous to count, but Kelvin Davis’ “pākehā spiders” comment and Tusiata Avia’s poetry come to mind.

Interviews like the one with co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, where she showed a lack of knowledge about the Budget, illustrate a lack of rigorous questioning. This is not the first time TPM leaders have gotten the kid gloves from the media. 

The public media refers to this government’s “anti-Māori” policies and seem to delight in polls, which go against the coalition government. The media take TPM seriously, asking what a Māori parliament would look like? How would it work? That is before having to report that not even the Māori King likes the idea. 

Are some Māori activists losing their “hands off” status by getting too extreme with their rhetoric? - Centrist
“I may have noticed something, but just barely. Back to you, Deb!“

Signs that things may be changing

Now, criticisms of increasingly disturbing imagery and rhetoric, previously dismissed as “far right”, have reached the mainstream media, but only just barely. The Platforms’ Sean Plunket said the media are generally “all meant to look the other way.” 

Heather du Plessis-Allan called the mainstream media’s ignoring of TPM’s recent “racist attack” on minister for children Karen Chhour a “double standard”, bemoaning the lack of media coverage TPM enjoys on this sort of stunt. 

“If TPM carries on with racist, personal attacks, it will inflame an already tense debate. The media seem to have decided [David] Seymour is the biggest threat to peace here. Frankly, TPM is obviously more likely to inflame sentiment,” she wrote. 

In an interview on AM, David Seymour said of TPM, “I never see ideas for solving problems together…all I hear from them is racial division.” Seymour called out the media also saying that “the double standard needs to end” before acknowledging host Lloyd Burr’s recent pushback on air against Waititi’s comments. 

Audrey Young in The NZ Herald notes: 

“[TPM] Co-leader Rawiri Waititi now talks openly about revolution inside and outside Parliament, and his wife, Kiri, in a much-publicised TikTok post talks about overthrowing the Government.”

It has since been reported that police are now investigating Tamihere-Waititi’s expletive-laden post.

Image: X (Formerly Twitter)

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