One of the tenets of journalism is to hold the powerful accountable for their actions and to shine a light on wrongdoing against marginalised members of society. But, as New Zealand’s Stuff took a closer look at its own history of coverage, it realised it had promoted a culture of racism against Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand.
That awareness resulted in a full investigation into its own coverage, dating back from its earliest editions some 160 years ago. About 20 Stuff journalists from across the country worked on this investigative project, combing through decades’ worth of digital and print coverage. From business to sports to lifestyle to the Letters to the Editor, the company looked at how it had represented Māori culture.
Ultimately, it became clear that Stuff’s coverage had contributed to stigmas, marginalisation, and stereotypes against Māori.
Righting past wrongs
In November, Stuff published the results of that investigation into itself, capping it with a public apology for the way the media organisation has portrayed Māori throughout its history. The full report, Tā Mātou Pono | Our Truth, was led by Pou Tiaki editor Carmen Parahi and editorial director Mark Stevens. The stories were brutally honest and unblinking in revealing the many ways Stuff had biased its coverage.
“It’s been very difficult to know the findings of this investigation reflect on me as well, as a reporter and Māori woman,” Parahi said. “One of the reasons for doing this is so my kids don’t have to carry the pain we, as Māori, have carried for so long because of the way we’ve been portrayed in the media over three centuries. This day of reckoning is a long time coming and the beginning of better representation in our reporting of all people in Aotearoa New Zealand.”
Stevens issued an apology in the form of a lengthy, honest editorial that was published on all Stuff channels. In addition to apologising directly to Māori, Stevens noted ways in which the company’s journalism has not served all cultures fairly. He also outlined how coverage would change moving forward.
“Our coverage of Māori issues over the last 160 years ranged from racist to blinkered. Seldom was it fair or balanced in terms of representing Māori,” he said.
“We are sorry. But apologies are hollow without a commitment to do better in the future. The distance left to travel on our journey includes ongoing consultation and engagement, ensuring our journalism is for all New Zealanders and trying to repair our relationship with Māori. That will take time and effort, and from time to time we might stumble. We will, though, continue to hold ourselves to account.”
Following a new charter
In conjunction with the release of Tā Mātou Pono | Our Truth, Stuff published a new charter that will guide the company’s coverage and operations in the future. CEO Sinead Boucher said the charter follows the principles and guidelines of the Treaty of Waitangi, which is a document created in 1840 to protect Māori culture.
“When the ownership of Stuff changed earlier this year, we had the chance to reset and reposition the business,” Boucher said. “Our people advocated for the Treaty principles of partnership, participation, and protection to be embedded into our new strategy. I felt strongly they should be widely adopted into the ethics and practice of our business alongside the principles of equity and editorial independence.”
In addition to acknowledging and embracing the Treaty principles, and committing to redress wrongs to Māori, the Stuff charter includes a promise to do better in the future.
“The Stuff charter sets down a pou tiaki (guard post) to ensure we guard against this kind of inequity in our reporting and business practices in the future,” Boucher said. “Our wish is to be a trusted partner for tangata whenua (people of the land) for generations to come.”