Saturday, September 26, 2015

Wintec Press Club: Mihi Forbes and Annabelle Lee

The Wintec Press Club lunch is held three times each year on behalf of the journalism students, and staged by the Wintec School of Media Arts. The star-studded guest list always features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. And me – I am now a lifetime member.

The students get to mingle with big-name media types and newsmakers: most tables have one or two students who get to meet industry veterans. It’s a brilliant idea and I have always enjoyed talking with the students and doing my best to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they do something useful or lucrative instead.

At our table were Hamilton mayor Julie Hardaker and, on my immediate left, Tim Macindoe, MP for Hamilton West and the Nats’ senior Whip. I wish I had known that when we were chatting. I would have asked him, “What does a Whip do, exactly?” Instead we talked about teenage suicide and Tauranga, where I spent my first 17 years quite happily but he shuddered at the memory of spending just 18 months there. He was very arts-friendly and, like me, a devotee of the free Wintec Press Club pens. On my right was a mature student, a Mormon so I couldn’t ask her to pass the wine. Instead we talked about her work with the homeless in Garden Place and abused children. It’s not all gay hilarity at the Wintec Press Club.

Other guests included novelists Mandy Hager and Charlotte Grimshaw, bloggers Michelle Dickinson of Nanogirl and Elizabeth Marvelly of Villainesse,  former politician Don Brash and, bafflingly, Bevan Chuang.

The speakers at these events are usually eminent media types types – last time it was TV3’s Paula Penfold – though once it was Pam Corkery and the time before that Rachel Glucina. This time it was two major Maori journalists: Mihingarangi Forbes (above left) and Annabelle Lee (above right). Forbes was a reporter/presenter at Maori Television’s Native Affairs, Lee was producer. Both left this year. Carol Hirschfeld, general manager production,  and Julian Wilcox, head of news and production, started this trend when they exited in 2014.

As our gracious host Steve Braunias said, there has been “an exodus of talent” from Maori Television: if it was careless to lose Hirschfeld, and then reckless to lose Wilcox, “it’s just kind of freaking nuts to further lose people of such blazing quality as Mihi and Annabelle”.

Both speakers kicked off in Maori. Forbes, a Wintec graduate, suggested that if the Maori King’s claim to Auckland succeeded he would rename it Hamilton Heights. This went down well with the locals. Forbes was very funny throughout, but also deadly serious about the problems facing Maori journalists. Especially female Maori journalists.

Forbes and Lee’s main topic was the series of programmes they made about the finances of the Kohanga Reo National Trust Board, starting with A Question of Trust (September 2013).

That turned out to be “a release valve for frustration”, with many viewers asking for investigation into all sorts of Maori organisations.

Both women send their children to kohanga reo, so know the organisation at ground level. Lee described it as “endless working bees and fundraisers” in contrast with what happens at the top.

After the next story, Feathering the Nest (October 2013), they received threats, Native Affairs was banned from Turangawaewae, people booked to come on the show “unbooked” themselves. “How dare these girls challenge their rangatira?” was the reaction from the usual male suspects: Derek Fox, Willie Jackson, John Tamihere, Dale Husband. “We’re female, we’re younger than them.” Fancy that, old blokes being sexist.

Both said how much they appreciated the support they’d had from the mainstream media, singling out the Herald’s David Fisher and especially TV3’s Tova O’Brien who would ask questions on their behalf when the kohanga reo people wouldn’t let them in to a press conference.

Forbes said that Maori Television wouldn’t show the final programme: “Yeah, and that’s basically why I quit.”

After the formal part, there were solid questions from the floor that elicited excellent answers. Then came a long statement from singer Moana Maniapoto about something or other. When I woke up, everyone was tucking into dessert.

For the journalism students – and probably most of the audience – this might have been the most useful Wintec Press Club address ever. Forbes and Lee were frank about the problems facing all journalists today, and especially Maori journalists who want to work in a Maori way, which involves respecting one’s elders while also asking questions and holding the powerful to account. Speaking truth to power doesn’t go down well when the powerful are old and male and the people speaking truth are young and female. Possibly it’s the female part that is the problem.

There was also the small matter of there being in Maoridom no such thing as six degrees of separation, so pressure comes from all sides. And referring to Newstalk ZB’s Rachel Smalley’s complaint that there are too few women on-air, Forbes noted the greater “paucity of Maori in mainstream media”. Well, yes. There is marginal and there is marginal.

At the end, Steve Braunias said, “The elephant in the room is Maori TV. Man up and tell us – what the fuck happened?”

Forbes replied that after Julian Wilcox was replaced by Paora Maxwell, “I didn’t want to be there any more. I hated it.”

Lee said simply, “All of the above.”

So here are Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan live in 2010, with “You Won’t Let Me Down Again”:

Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post quoted a chunk of the above under the title “Maori TV and the mediapocalypse”, and commented:
What happened at Maori TV is one of the most clear-cut cases of establishment censorship imaginable. Journalists started asking uncomfortable questions; the establishment got angry and imposed a new leader on the organisation who shut everything down. There’s a hell of a book in there. (The lack of public outrage is, presumably because mainstream New Zealand doesn’t really care what happens in Maori institutions).
It’s also a reminder to progressives – who advocate for more public-funded media in response to the collapse of the commercial media model – that state-funded media has its own problems.
Good. But he prefaced it with “QuoteUnquote has an overview of the latest Wintec Press Club’s (notorious) luncheon featuring  Mihingarangi Forbes and Annabelle Lee as guest speakers”.
Our host at the lunch, Steve Braunias, took exception in the comments (third one in):
Minor things. It’s not “(notorious)”, just an event. And Stephen Stratford claims I said “Man up”! I didn’t.

Oh yes he did. I take notes at these events and recorded this comment because he said it to two stroppy women, which we all thought was quite funny – it got a big laugh. Evidence: a reporter’s notebook:

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