TE REO’S FRONT LINE
Presenters bringing Ma¯ori language into the mainstream endure torrents of abuse for their trouble. Glenn McConnell reports.
DUNCAN Garner, a former political editor turned radio and television host, is not usually shy of airing his opinions. But when, to start Ma¯ori Language Week on Monday, he told viewers that te reo should be taught in all primary schools, that’s when Garner says people started to lose it.
‘‘I got emails that would be the most abusive I’ve received all year from New Zealanders who effectively treated me as a war criminal,’’ he says.
His short editorial was not received well by many of the viewers at home, leading Garner – whose daughters both speak the language fluently – to say he doesn’t think the audience will appreciate more te reo Ma¯ori in the media.
‘‘It’s sad because it’s a taonga, it is a treasure. And once we lose it, it’s gone mate.’’
He replied to only one of the dozens of emails.
‘‘This one person, who I consider a coward, a complete coward, ripped into me like I was some sort of war criminal or sick intruder because I supported my girls.
‘‘What’s bad about it? The only bad bit, I think, is the disgusting response. These emails, it’s like I was a mass murderer by supporting the language.’’
She’s not fluent, but host of The Project Kanoa Lloyd says there is no excuse for broadcasters getting it wrong.
Lloyd says she was lucky to have slightly more exposure to te reo Ma¯ori than many, as she spent a year at ko¯hanga reo and attended a primary school that she says valued the language.
But growing up, the only phrases Lloyd says were truly etched into her mind were those from her dad telling her off.
‘‘Kia tu¯pato,’’ those two words, ‘‘be careful’’, have stuck around in Lloyd’s mind from her childhood.
‘‘Every broadcaster is probably on a similar level to me,’’ she says. ‘‘For some people, the reason I think they don’t learn Ma¯ori is because they’re afraid of it. They’re afraid, maybe that they’ll get it wrong. I know that feeling, it’s a horrible feeling when you’re scared of getting something wrong.’’
Her advice? ‘‘There’s this website, Google dot co dot NZ. It’s really good.’’
It’s obvious, she says, when people are trying. ‘‘There will be this little micro-pause right before they’re about to speak, and when I hear that, my heart is just with them.’’
Breakfast presenter Jack Tame says it’s not a crime to pronounce te reo wrong, ‘‘but I do think it’s a crime not to at least try’’.
Raised in Christchurch, the son of two European immigrants, Tame had little to do with Te Ao Ma¯ori growing up but now he’s one of the Ma¯ori Language Commission’s poster boys.
He’s spent the week being an official representative for te reo, and Minister for Ma¯ori Development Te Ururoa Flavell is one of his best Twitter pals after praising Tame for his use of te reo Ma¯ori on air.
‘‘The truth is, none of us speak fluent te reo but everyone on Breakfast feels the same way about trying to use a bit on air and trying to normalise it a bit. We all see ourselves as having a responsibility on that front,’’ he says.
Tame admits some TVNZ viewers ask him why he isn’t working for Ma¯ori Television.
‘‘There are a lot of people in my position who want to embrace the language, as well as Ma¯ori, and I think that’s what we need,’’ Tame says, adding he’s embarrassed how much praise he’s received.
‘‘The amount of notes we get from people just delighted to hear some reo, shows just how much te reo has been missing from New Zealand television.’’
The issue with Ma¯ori Language Week, critics point out, is that it is only a week. What about the other 51?
On Morning Report, co-host Guyon Espiner sees the absurdity of the fact that if the language is only notable for a week it will never thrive. Which is why, since this time last year, the reporters on RNZ haven’t stopped signing off in te reo.
‘‘The cool thing about Te Wiki o te Reo Ma¯ori is you get an excuse to use it even more.’’ And so each year, his challenge is to add more.
When Espiner first started his role, he immediately made an impact by adding longer and different mihi to start the show. That’s when ‘‘the ugly strand’’ of listeners tell him he’s ‘‘talking gibberish’’.
‘‘Each time I push the boat out way.’’
It’s like I was a mass murderer by supporting the language.’ DUNCAN GARNER
Guyon Espiner, Duncan Garner and Jack Tame have all supported Ma¯ori Language Week.