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Can you see racism in Corrections’ recruitment ads; some swear it’s there

In brief
  • “Racist” ads pulled. One for using the word “whānau” and another for portraying a Pākehā officer as a positive influence on a Māori inmate. 
  • Are some too quick to call racism?
  • What does “racism” even mean? Not even the Government has an agreed upon definition. 

“Racist” ads pulled

A recruitment ad for the Department of Corrections was “urgently being removed”, according to Corrections officials. This was after one complaint that it was racist and offensive. 

The ad, which was on buses throughout Waikato and Bay of Plenty, features the words “Become the change for our Waikato whānau”. Alongside is a Māori woman who is smiling and in the uniform of a professional corrections officer.  

The complaint was levelled by Jason Ake, general manager of communications of the Waikato Tainui iwi Trust. However, Ake made the complaint as a private citizen and not in his professional capacity.

Corrections deputy chief executive Māori Topia Rameka immediately asked for the online versions of the ad to be pulled and for the bus backs to be removed. 

Apparently racism is in the use of the word “whānau”. Some perceive the word’s use in the ad implies all Māori are criminals. 

Strange because amid the ongoing campaign to normalise the use of te reo Māori generally and in the Government specifically, the use of the word “whānau” is almost as common as Kia Ora. Corrections (in line with other Government departments) regularly identifies itself by its Māori name, Aro Poutama Aotearoa. 

Can you see racism in Corrections’ recruitment ads; some swear it’s there - Centrist
This is a sign at Auckland City Hospital. 
Would you assume all patients are Māori?

More implied “racism”

In another incident in March 2023, a recruitment advert featured a Māori child crediting a Pākehā corrections officer for his father’s rehabilitation and saying he may become a corrections officer one day himself. One part of the ad portrayed images of the inmate displaying hostility towards the officer. 

This ad was considered “likely to cause offence and harm” by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) because it supposedly portrayed a negative Māori stereotype alongside the notion of a “white saviour”. 

The director of the ad identifies as Māori and a Māori cultural advisor was employed to help cast for the series of recruitment commercials. 

How can one tell if something’s racist? 

According to the ASA, there’s a social responsibility stating “Advertisements must be prepared and placed with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society”.

As discussed previously, terms like “social responsibility” are opaque

Hobson’s Pledge has been attempting to glean a definition of racism from the Government through various OIA requests, but to no avail. 

Without an objective definition, there is a wide grey area (is “grey” also sensitive?) where racism appears to be mainly in the eye of the beholder. 

More money for the media

Corrections is on a $4m recruitment blitz. The ad campaign itself is part of a nearly $100m Labour initiative to improve prison outcomes specifically for Māori through the five year “Hōkai Rangi” strategy. 

Ongoing shortages

Dangerously low staffing levels have forced the closing of prisons and limited face to face visits and rehabilitative programmes. 

Despite falling prison population numbers, however, not only are assaults on staff on the rise, but the proportion of prisoners who identify as Māori is increasing. Self identified Māori inmates currently make up about 53% of the overall prison population.  Thousands of community Corrections staff including probation officers staged a strike in April 2023 after failed pay negotiations.

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