The portrayal of Māori/Pasifika in media has always been problematic. For someone who is Māori and PI, it’s easy to notice. BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of colour) man steals food to feed his family? Dangerous thug/crim aggressively robs Munchy Mart. White man kills his whole family? A loving husband/father lets family into heaven’s gates. It influences how our country views my people. It speaks to a national sentiment that Māori are threatening a social order and burdening our society. We are continually portrayed as poor and aggressive individuals who threaten the comfortable and familiar pakeha dominance.
Last year, Mayoral candidate Efeso Collins expressed the same sentiment leading to massive changes. Efeso tweeted, “Hey @TVNZ it’s time u dropped Police Ten 7. A couple of days ago I was watching tv & your ad cut promo’ing the program showed young brown ppl. This stuff is low level chewing gum tv that feeds on racial stereotypes & it’s time u acted as a responsible broadcaster & cut it”. While on The Hui, Collins stated that “the show doesn’t reflect New Zealand or our community”. These comments sparked an online conversation that caused the series to be reviewed and initiated discourse on BIPOC interactions with police. A review of the show was conducted and concluded that Māori were portrayed “fairly”. A classic case of “we’ve investigated ourselves and found no wrongdoing”.
Good old Police Ten 7 is one of the main perpetrators of negative media portrayals. While I can have a laugh at certain situations in the show, it is not lost on me that it can have a formative effect on discourse and sentiments surrounding BIPOC. The show feeds racial stereotypes to mainstream New Zealand and does not afford an accurate representation of its people and citizens. Police Ten 7 builds its entire foundation on the trauma of vulnerable communities and provides a privileged platform for police while removing the dignity of people facing some of the worst moments of their lives. This is all done with purpose and intentionality. In 2007, TVNZ boss Rick Ellis included Police Ten 7 in a list of programmes that included Māori representation when speaking to the Māori Affairs Select Committee.
Shows like these reinforce colonial structures and the mamae/whakama of our people. It generates a certain uneasiness when our people have interactions with the police. It’s the feeling of a police car directly behind you x100. A lot of New Zealanders fail to realise that their interactions with police differ from POC interactions with police. Stories of anxiety among my POC friends in anticipation of police contact do not surprise me. David, a Samoan UoA Arts student, tells us of the negative interactions he has had with the police:
“Me and my island friends were walking down Albert Park behind some of our white mates when two police officers asked what we were doing. ‘Walking?’ I thought in my head. One of my more drunk activisty comrades called them out for walking past our palangi friends ahead and coming straight to us brown boys. He ended up getting put to the ground and handcuffed. I look back now and crack up at him screaming that “this is a violation!” of some Act or Treaty that I do not remember, but at the time, it wasn’t so funny.”
Former Police Ten 7 host Graham Bell came to the show’s defence. In a conversation with Newstalk ZB (red flag), the former host said that “it’s very difficult not to develop a slight attitude to a group of people that are constantly offending,” and that “I would argue that Mr. Collins is approaching this from the wrong end. Perhaps he should be looking at why we’ve got this problem in our society”. REALLY BRO? We fucking know why, brown people know why, and if anyone knows why, it’s Efeso Collins. When asked whether police have an inherent mistrust towards Māori and Pasifika, the host replied, “I don’t have the answer for that, but cancelling a show like Police Ten 7 is not going to help”. But it might? Police Ten 7 is not the vehicle for accountability nor the product that promotes healing that Mr. Bell thinks it is. There is no doubt that the show uses my people as entertainment and proceeds to feign ignorance when held accountable.
The effect of negative Māori media portrayals profoundly affects our collective health and well-being, ultimately undermining the fundamentals of equity and union. With all the negative sentiments of our culture, there becomes a struggle to embrace our identities. Our portrayal as savage, aggressive, dirty, and lazy creates subconscious ideas of who we are, stereotypes us, and reinforces Pākehā as the norm. For those older and lucky enough to know better, we don’t let it get to us. But for a younger generation, identity issues can manifest from these portrayals and sentiments. An aspect of shame exists in many of my people. We become ashamed of our own culture, especially at a young age. I have felt this before. During intermediate and early high school, the sentiments my friends held towards Māori, and Pacific Island people made me feel insecure when I just wanted to be accepted. I can say with a little radicalisation and healing, I have and continue to work through this whakama on my reconnecting journey. But I will not get over the fact that the youth of my people have to work through this in the first place. It is underserved, heart-breaking, and infuriating. No young person should have to be ashamed of their own culture, who they are, and where they come from.
With Police Ten 7 rebranding as Ten 7 Aotearoa, questions arise as to whether anything has changed. Only using Māori words when it suits your rebrand, aye? It would be nice to see an episode start with “Tonight, on Police Ten 7: Police investigate reports of recurrent theft of land in the area and expose an elaborate organised crime ring operating since the 1800s with deep foreign ties, a gang so sophisticated it has its own police force.”