Media Microaggressions: Iwi & Social Housing

Haami Piripi argued on The Nation that State houses have zero market value and as such the starting point for negotiations around price for the release of those houses for the Iwi Leaders Group was zero. This was in light of the fact that ongoing investment is required to meet the housing needs of social housing tenants. This immediately prompted the claim by The Nation’s Lisa Owen that “iwi want State houses for free” and the corollary “this is unfair to the tax payer”.

As Piripi explained, housing is the single most determinant factor in child poverty. Overcrowding and substandard housing disproportionately affects whānau Māori. To reiterate, Piripi suggested that these houses have no market value because they are coupled with an ongoing cost that is usually the responsibility of the State. Therefore a straight transfer is an investment since Iwi are willing to pick up the costs of that social responsibility by investing their own resources. Additionally, Piripi argued that zero market value was the starting point – he did not say that the iwi collective were unwilling to negotiate a fair price. Yet, consider the number of times that Lisa Owen stressed the soundbite that iwi want State houses for free:

  • Iwi wants the houses for free?
  • Free?
  • Why do you think zero free houses is the right price?
  • So do you think giving them away for free is fair value to the taxpayer?
  • Wouldn’t they have to offer the houses to them for free as well, or do you think that this is a deal that should just apply to iwi?
  • So does the Government know you want these houses for free?
  • So you want a blanket deal negotiated for all iwi across the country to get these houses for free?

This inevitably led to the initial propagation of this contrived message in subsequent headlines of major publications:

Although it’s rather cliché to appeal to Orwellian dialogue these days, these messages emphasise the suggestion that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes truth.

One problem with this kind of framing is that it plays into the decades long stiffing of advancement for Māori – that our people are just in the business of wanting ‘something for nothing’. Nevermind that a large proportion of Crown land was acquired through raupatu (confiscation), and that Māori land continues to be taken for public works. And that intergenerational inequity experienced by whānau Māori is the result of historic injustices perpetuated by the Crown.

So while I’m appalled that media still want to attack Māori initiatives, I’m not particularly surprised. I’m not convinced this was a conscious act, but perhaps evidence of entrenched media micro-aggressions. Afterall, feeding racial disquiet is a proven formula for increasing ratings. But this type of storytelling isn’t a scoop. It’s a gouge. It’s the hollowing out of truth to prevent the real message: Iwi Māori being proactive in their approach to relieve the intergenerational inequity that disproportionately affects whānau Māori.

The reiteration of the distorted message also frames Iwi Māori as enemies of ‘hardworking New Zealander’s’, all the while downplaying that the Iwi collective express a desire and commitment to invest iwi resources into their social housing initiatives to improve the lives of Māori and carry the ongoing costs of that social housing responsibility. This is a crucial point to emphasise in an economy supported by the State, and that is geared toward producing inequity.

Lamia Imam sums up the reality well in her tweet:

Decentralisation is consistent with mana motuhake. Māori reclaiming control over our own lives should be supported not thwarted by media, or anyone else for that matter.


3 thoughts on “Media Microaggressions: Iwi & Social Housing

  1. Hi there. You won’t be surprised that I disagree with your framing. While everyone has the right to read an interview however they choose, I think it’s important to say that as far as the team is concerned it was not a conscious or unconscious attack on Maori initiatives or playing into any racist preconceptions. I don’t think you should be appalled. If you watch The Nation over time and see how we consistently approach all our powerful guests, you would have to argue that we are “microaggressive” against old and young, Pakeha and Maori and so on.

    The Nation is a programme that does challenging interviews, whoever we’re speaking to, and it’s a contest of ideas. While you may agree with Haami’s proposition, what he was advocating is a controversial plan clearly at odds with the government’s own. We’re also a news programme and news that iwi as a collective wanted houses for free is big news, worth repeating.

    Lisa’s job is to test and probe and play devil’s advocate; this is what she was doing, as she would with any guest. (You fail to note that the “fair value to the taxpayer” line was asking Haami to respond to a direct quote from Bill English).

    To frame a probing interview in as broad a context as you do (“entrenched media microaggressions”) is to take it out of context and assume that because all dogs have four legs, all animals with four legs are dogs.

    There are many truths that come out of any story or interview. You hve chosen to focus on iwi being proactive and dealing with poverty issues. All good. That was an important part of the story. But so was the pure politics of iwi taking a negotiating stance at odds with National. That may not be the part of the story you see as important, but it is not untrue, it is not unnewsworthy and it is not an attack based on race.

    Haami knew all this and knew perfectly well how provocative he was being; he was purposefully throwing a cat amongst the pigeons and, as you can see, was not surprised or rattled by the questions asked. He did not complain about the interview.

    I’d also point out that you’re able to make your argument entirely based on what Haami said in the interview (and I agree with some of your points)… Doesn’t that by definition mean that he was able to get his message out and got a fair go?

    Thanks for watching,

    Tim Watkin
    Executive Producer, The Nation


  2. Every state house carries a base line capital value. Iwi taking over state house stock will of course increase their capital value and yes understood there is the ongoing financial upkeep of that housing stock but if it is given to Iwi it essentially comes without a mortgage and affords Iwi the ability to be able to rent out given properties in covering costs. Not a dad situation to be in.


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