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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 March, 2004, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
NZ launches first Maori TV station
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Maori television chairman Wayne Walden
Mrs Clark was given a tour of the station by chairman Wayne Walden

New Zealand has launched its first nationwide Maori language television channel.

More than 600 people crowded in front of the channel's Auckland headquarters before dawn for the emotional opening ceremony.

"It has got off to a great start," said Prime Minister Helen Clark.

She said she hoped every New Zealander would treasure and nurture the Maori language and culture, which helped define the country to the world.

The government-funded station aims to preserve the culture of New Zealand's indigenous people, who make up around 12.5% of the country's four million population.

Half of the station's programmes must be in Maori, which is now spoken by fewer than a tenth of Maoris.

Youth focus

With an estimated half of the Maori population under the age of 24, the station's focus will be on attracting younger viewers.

The channel featured live coverage of the opening, before starting its daily eight hours of programming with a documentary on gathering and cooking traditional Maori foods, including native prawns and wild pig.

A daily news programme will look at current affairs from a Maori perspective, while the weather report will include information about tides and good times to fish or garden.

The channel's launch comes 13 years after the Supreme Court ruled that the New Zealand government had a legal obligation - under an 1840 colonial treaty - to protect the language.

Billed as a channel for both Maori and Pakeha (New Zealanders of European origin), it also aims to contribute to better relations between the two communities.

There is certainly room for improvement - a recent survey published in the weekly National Business Review found that 59% of New Zealanders believe race relations between Maori and Pakeha are getting worse.

Controversy

Previous attempts to begin Maori broadcasting have been dogged by set-backs.

The project stalled in 2001 when chief executive John Davy was jailed for three months for lying on his application form.

Chairman Derek Fox took over the role, but resigned late last year after amid allegations of sexual harassment.

Many have criticised the NZ$30m (US$19.6m) it receives from the government, and questions have been asked over some of the station's spending and the way staff have been appointed.

And at a time when the main opposition National Party has surged ahead at the polls, their Maori Affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee says he is unsure of the need for the station.

However, the station's chief executive Ani Waaka is confident Maori television will make its mark.

"We have not taken too much notice of much of the criticism that has come our way," she told One News.

"Simply, there have been challenges and we deal with those and we keep moving on."




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: New Zealand
05 Nov 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: New Zealand
18 Dec 03  |  Country profiles


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