Te Karere, New Zealand’s first Maori-language TV show, turns 40

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When Scotty Morrison started facing Te Karere in 2002, it was still airing with nearly as minimal a setup as the series’ very first episodes, produced and presented by Derek Fox 20 years earlier in 1982.

“I would walk into the studio, there was a camera in front of me and a desk the size of old school desks with a felt rug and a microphone sticking out,” Morrison recalled.

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“It helped normalize te reo Māori in Aotearoa, New Zealand,” says Te Karere presenter Scotty Morrison.

“That’s where I would present from – sit in the chair and present directly in front of the lens. So it’s come a long way since,” he laughs.

Now celebrating 40 years since the first one-minute bulletin for Maori Language Week was broadcast on February 21, 1982, Te Karere (literally ‘the messenger’ or ‘the message’) was New Zealand’s first Maori-language television programme.

Past shows like the iwi documentary series Tangata Whenua in 1974 and weekly magazine program Koha in 1980 had already featured Maori content, but still in English.

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“It is the value of what Te Karere has been. It helped normalize te reo Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand,” says Morrison.

“A lot of people put it in the background and they hear it and it goes into their DNA and they get familiar with the sounds of reo, so they recognize that it’s there and it’s part of us, of people who live in Aotearoa,” he adds.

Morrison will celebrate his Te Karere birthday in November this year, marking 20 years as a presenter.

Not having learned to speak Maori until his first year at university, the 51-year-old says Te Karere was a “valuable resource” for him.

“At first I wouldn’t have been able to understand a single word, but as you progress through the language journey, shows like Te Karere become really important for you to assess how well you understand.

“The photos are there to help you. You start getting familiar with the words and you start mimicking what people are saying on the show.

Then continuing to host it himself, and for 20 years, is not something Morrison takes lightly.

“There is so much responsibility, so much legacy, so much importance to bear when you join the team of Te Karere, and that makes it, for me anyway, more than just a news program. It is an honor and a privilege to be part of every day.

While TVNZ news bosses in 1982 initially expected original presenter Derek Fox to simply translate a story or two from the mainstream newscast into Maori, Fox was determined that Te Karere would be “Maori news, not just news in Maori”.

The distinction is not lost on Morrison.

“Yes, because we are very different in our way of seeing the world,” he says.

“We have different ways of operating, different ways of reflecting who we are and what we are, and that has never been achieved by anyone until Te Karere came, because we only heard one language and we were only shown a very monocultural view of things.

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“There’s so much responsibility, so much legacy, so much to bear,” says Scotty Morrison.

“I always give the example of when the Ngāti Kahu were demonstrating at Kaitaia airport (in 2015).

“They come across the mainstream reporter live, who says, ‘The protesters are there and they’re trying to burn down the airport building.’ And then you get a cross from the Te Karere journalist soon after and she said, “The Ngāti Kahu are here and they have lit fires to show their traditional land tenure and occupation of this area”.

“And so you have two views there – one completely wrong but very inflammatory, and the other makes it the right way to explain what was going on, but also to show what the Maori worldview was in terms of of how you show traditional tenure land.”

Keeping the fire burning is what Te Karere been doing for 40 years now, and Morrison thinks the flame will last another 40 years at least.

“It’s a taonga now,” he said. “You listen to whaikorero and if it’s something to do with broadcasting, people will use the words taonga or tupuna for programs that have been around for over 30 years, and those programs are Waka Huia, marae and Te Karere.

“So it’s a taonga for us now. It’s an ancestor to us now, and as a result, it’s so valued, respected, and treasured that I think it would be a very brave person to decide to end it.

Te Karere, TVNZ 1, airs weekdays at 4 p.m.

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