Paora Maxwell is here to neuter Māori Television

Paora Maxwell’s interview on Mediawatch (starts at 15.40) this week was a solid piece of key phrases and deflection. He doesn’t strike the listener as a person who has all that much to contribute; conflicts of interest aside, I was left wondering what he had that so swayed the board of Māori Television. However, despite his best efforts, Maxwell showed more of his hand than he wanted to in the interview.

If you listen to him, you will notice at least two things: he is talking to his staff at Māori Television, not us as viewers; when he is asked to address issues and conflicts that show the cracks in the facade of the accepted script he is reading from, he tends to talk far more quickly than in the rest of interview and bookends with key phrases. It’s his tell; his sub-conscious is telling us that he is lying.

When asked about the widely lauded Native Affairs’ investigation into the Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust, his bookend was that he wanted the lesson for his staff from this hard-hitting journalism to be a modification of the “tone of the approach” to Māori leaders. In itself this is a rather murky phrase designed to escape accusation, but the rapid fire words between his bookends betray his purpose. At one point he tartily asserted that non-Māori wouldn’t understand how Māori “revere our elders,” and this poses a delicate situation when younger people are questioning elders.

If this all strikes you as fluff and bullshit, let me clarify for you: Maxwell is telling Māori Television reporters that our elders in leadership positions are not to be questioned on matters of accountability in a skeptical manner.

Once we’ve stripped it of its niceties, if that strikes you as a threat against Mihingarangi Forbes, Annabelle Lee and the other investigative journalists of Native Affairs and Te Kāea – you’d be right. When asked about current restructuring in Māori Television and particularly the loss of Julian Wilcox and Carol Hirschfeld, he is quick to dance on their graves. Maxwell holds to his line that one person is not the making or breaking of Māori Television, and then puts the knife in by suggesting darkly that there are “internal cultural issues” he is having to deal with. He concludes on a warning for Native Affairs: he generously concedes there is nothing wrong with appealing to “niche audiences” but holds out his vision for a bigger strategic goal as the deciding factor.

Whilst Native Affairs is scheduled for 2015, after what I heard today, I predict we will see more of the faces of Native Affairs and Te Kāea resign.

In April 2014, I wrote in my blog Killing Native Affairs.. that establishment Māori leadership will take a three prong approach to killing the kind of insightful accountability that Native Affairs represents: restricting access to Māori leadership; dulling the blade of investigative journalism at Māori Television; and moving the resources to places where they can be used without questions.

In relation to dulling Māori Television, I commented that Maxwell’s appointment is:

…intended to dull Māori Television with visionless leadership that staff can’t bear to work under. It’s much easier than attacking the brilliant investigative journalists in the channel; just make it unbearably boring and lifeless to work there.

Paora Maxwell’s interview above sadly affirms my assertion. He was incapable of articulating a vision and strategic goals in the generous amount of time he was given by Mediawatch. His key phrases are meaningless frippery from someone taking his orders from a higher power, the conservative elements in the Māori Party aligned with the corporate interests in Te Mātāwai who survive, in a personal and corporate sense, on Crown funding. Unfortunately, our leaders here seem allergic to public accountability for the millions they control.

I do not believe all is lost in Māori Television. Not by a long shot. But it should be readily apparent that an intervention is called for. Māori Television is, I believe, a State Owned Enterprise and therefore is subject to the Official Information Act. If Maxwell is discouraging his own reporters from investigative journalism, perhaps we should do it for him. I encourage you to send OIAs to Māori Television to find out what Paora Maxwell is up to, because it’s obvious his interviews aren’t going to explain much.

My first OIA would be this: a record of all correspondence between Paora Maxwell and the staff of Native Affairs in relation to the final 2014 episode of Native Affairs. You see, Hone is many things but he is not a liar, and I’m not feeling confident I can include Paora in that statement.