Perception of Māori - Past, Present, Future

In his recent article "Mind Hacking": Information Warfare in the Cyber Age", Fabio Rugge, Head of ISPI'S Center on Cybersecurity writes:

The desire to influence the public debate in foreign countries is nothing new, as disinformatia and psychological operations (PsyOps) have long been a tool in the arsenal of States.

The desire to influence the public debate has become a buzz in the era of 'fake news'. 'Fake' being a somewhat misleading term, as it does not accurately portray the damage created by successful disinformation campaigns.

The Oxford Internet Institute has been studying this topic since 2012 and it's affect on political campaigns is well known in Brexit and the US election.  A corporate vehicle Cambridge Analytica has established itself as a leader in the field, merging both psychology and social media advertising into one powerful buyable manipulation package.

Most recently in January 2018, this manipulation of public perception was enabled via the Twitter platform and a co-ordinated effort on #ReleasetheMemo hashtag. This is explained very well in this article by Politico a news source devoted to exposing abuse of power in the US.

So what has this got to do with New Zealand & Maori?

As Fabio Rugge writes, these latest disinformation or influence techniques are nothing new. Essentially the practice of influence has been well-used since the development of the printing press. What this article suggests is that indigenous Maori have not had a response to this form of social control, and therefore, have been at the harsh end of the perception manipulation stick for well over 150 years.

That Maori survived this onslaught is a qudos to the Maori communities, as well as the support of non-Maori who saw the injustice and picked up the fight - sometimes alongside Maori and sometimes out of just doing the right thing (exposing and righting the injustice).

I won't delve into the ACT Party, National Party or even Labour political campaigns, but many in New Zealand will understand the polarising effect of the Iwi Versus Kiwi or Foreshore & Seabed disinformation campaigns.  These were psychological tactics devised to polarise Maori at odds with the growth and development of non-Maori New Zealand. Used specifically to elevate certain politicians in a strong arm role to push down and suppress an idea of Maori emerging power.

So let's start briefly at the arrival of the first printing press.

New Zealand colonial tactics

If we skip briefly through the history of New Zealand's British Colonisation, we find many documented examples of information manipulation. The Church Missionary Society of England had interest in influencing early settlers, workers, travellers and indigenous Maori in New Zealand in 1830:

The Bay of Islands had seen printing 10 years before it saw a newspaper. On 31 July 1830 the schooner Active arrived at the bay from Sydney. Aboard were the Rev. W. Yate, a James Smith, a 15-year-old printer, and a press. Yate wrote in September 1831: “employed with James Smith in printing off a few hymns in the native language. We succeeded beyond our most sanguine expectations”. Several copies of work done by Yate and Smith are believed to be among the records of the Church Missionary Society in England.

Source: Te Ara Encyclopaedia

This original distribution was intended for religious missionary purposes, to 'educate the natives'.  Nine years later Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a British Politican, with a somewhat questionable character (more below), planned his elopements with the New Zealand Company:

"Possess yourself of the Soil and you are Secure."

Edward G Wakefield was a well-connected elite in Britain, serving as the King's Messenger, carrying diplomatic mail all about Europe during the later stages of the Napoleonic Wars, both before and after the decisive Battle of Waterloo.

Edward G Wakefield

At a meeting in March 1839, Wakefield was invited to become the director of the New Zealand Company. Although wealthy by contemporary standards, Wakefield was never satisfied. He wished to acquire an estate and enter British Parliament, for this he needed more capital. In 1826 he abducted 15-year-old Ellen Turner, after luring her from school with a false message about her mother's health. Wakefield was brought to trial for the case known as the Shrigley abduction in 1827 and, along with his brother William, sentenced to three years in Newgate prison.

Wakefield also attempted to overturn his father-in-law's will and get his hands on the remainder of his dead wife's money. This is the same Edward Wakefield who financed the first newspaper in New Zealand:

The New Zealand press was founded by Samuel Revans “of rough exterior, careless in dress (who) wore a conspicuously large Panama hat. His eyes were dark, penetrating, and deeply set, surmounted by thick, bushy eyebrows. His manner was restless, and his speech, though intelligent, often coarse”. After arriving back in London from a stormy experience in the Canadian colony, he was engaged by E. G. Wakefield to produce a journal for the New Zealand Company's expedition then fitting out to colonise in the antipodes. Before the expedition left England, Revans had used type and a Columbia press to produce, on 21 August 1839, the first issue of the New Zealand Gazette. The second issue (four pages for 1s.) appeared from a whare on the banks of the Hutt River eight months later; and this latter, of 18 April 1840, was the first newspaper to be printed in New Zealand.

Both Samuel Revans & Edward Gibbon Wakefield are the first in New Zealand to run significant information manipulation campaigns and engage in 'perception management' towards the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori.

They are not the only, there is a long line of negative reflection and sensationalism into many facets of Maori culture, people and history.  For example, this Victoria University Review points out the flaws in this book Te Rauparaha:

Sensationalism: Butler's text has a fatuous interest in body counts and cannibal feasting: hardly any of these details, I notice are edited out. He particularly highlights words like "forequarter" and "diemember". Whereas important names and episodes have vanished.

It was in the interests of colonisers (of that time) to demonise indigenous Maori as oppressors to British succession. Various tactics were used to heighten neurocity in settlers (e.g aggrandised reports of cannibalism), justify reasons for conquest (dishonest dealings or falsehoods, eg Waikato Wars), generate false-flags (e.g Hauhau religion) or amplify otherwise innocent resistance (e.g Parihaka).

As the book "Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa" points out:

Many newspapers published in the second half of the 19th century used Maori language, though not all were published by Maori. ... Te Karere o Niu Tireni (in various titles, 1842-63) contained government announcements and correspondence, Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke i runga i te tuanui (1863) was established to counter Te Hokioi (see below), and Te Waka Maori (1863-79 and 1884) was under government control after its first few years.


These newspapers were clearly devices to gain and control colonial information dominance - 150 years of stigmatisation and rankism toward Maori (as well as emerging immigrant groups) have successfully suppressed anticipated threats to settler hegemony.

As a teenager I read both versions of 'The New Zealand Wars', volumes I & II by James Cowan and the single volume book by James Belich (along with his television series).  The exotic sensationalism in the volumes by James Cowan is really 'hammed up' to give the book some marketing appeal. I understand that being a historian is difficult and challenging, but to skew the facts and inflate aspects knowingly is fiction and misleading.  And this is the problem, it's been ok to sensationalise, fictionalise, dramatise the history of Maori.

Disinformation has been so deeply allowed and accepted within the social fabric of New Zealand.

What about Maori media response?

From 1830 to 2018 there have been many Maori newspapers, magazines, radio and television outlets (not plentiful but many). The question needs to be asked - have any of these been successful in reversing the tide of colonial information dominance?  Or assisting to rewire public perception of anti-Maori thinking?

Most of these newspapers in Maori took a particular stance on political or religious issues, but they all frequently also contain reports of hui, obituaries, waiata, advertisements, local news, correspondence and so on, which are all valuable sources of historical information.

Source: Victoria University

Many would argue, not so, particularly if Maori populations have frequently been reported at the lower-end of the socio-economic scale or untrustworthy partners in development (or land, businesses, social enterprise).

By the way, access to Maori newspapers is in microfiche, an archive format exclusively reserved for the domain of academics and researcher. It's not easily accessed.

Study of Maori newspapers has been hampered in the past by the location of scarce copies in research libraries. In an attempt to improve accessibility the Alexander Turnbull Library, in cooperation with other libraries which held copies, first produced microfilm copies through the National Library, then in 1996 produced microfiche copies, aiming to allow study through any library or institution with a microfiche reader. The complete set of Niupepa 1842-1933 has been purchased by a few major libraries, and digitisation of the papers is currently under discussion. However, the microfiche edition includes only those titles which began publication before 1900. Some later titles are available on microfilm from the National Library of New Zealand.

Source: Victoria University

It was not until the 1980s that Tu Tangata subtitled itself Maori News Magazine. Mana Magazine made an appearance. Also, some Maori have been employed as journalists within established colonial media companies, what is now commonly known in New Zealand as 'mainstream media'.

With the arrival of disruptive political voices and activists in the 1980's, general public awareness of the constitutional set-up of New Zealand (Treaty of Waitangi) was bought to the fore. With this political movement came the emergence of Maori storytellers in film, journalism, radio and other media avenues.

What about Maori Television?

Maori Television was launched on 28 March 2004. The main channel attracts 1.5 million viewers each month; half of all Maori aged five or more, and one third of all New Zealanders. 'Te Reo', the station's second channel, was launched in 28 March 2008. It stands out from the main channel in that it is both free of advertising, and broadcast completely in Maori (without subtitles). Te Reo features special tribal programming with a particular focus on new programming for the fluent members of its audience.

At it's core, Maori Television is a state funded project and must meet specific goals of language education and retention. Whilst certain elements of content indirectly address colonial dominance, cultural confusion and rankism issues, Maori Television does not appear to be a vehicle to counter the information dominance by institutional settler media organisations for the general New Zealand public. It's market is mainly Maori, pro-Maori and anyone interested in the topics of it's shows (for example, hunting).

It is more likely that the issue of Maori disinformation sits exclusively in the domain of the non-Maori New Zealand media (with a much larger audience base and therefore a more powerful ability to influence).

A continuing struggle

Simon Collins, a reporter with the New Zealand Herald writes in January 2018, 'Racism exists, we feel little and bad' - school student. As a father of two young Maori/Hawaiian girls aged 4 and 6, I became very concerned.

A high school student said: "Because we're Maoris, and the teacher might think we're dumb, they don't want to pay as much attention to us, and focus more on the white people."

This discrimination extends not only to Maori but others who look Maori too:

A Tuvaluan/Samoan/Rarotongan student said: "Some teachers are racist. They tell you that you are not going to achieve ... this makes me feel angry because it hurts."

And for every reporter or journalist like Simon in the NZ Herald, there is also a counter force, such as well-known Mike Hoskings. Why?  Perhaps because he appeals to the long established anti-Maori faction?  Not sure, exactly. Perhaps he draws viewers?  Maybe it is the many of the generations of settlers whose minds have been drip-fed a diet of anti-Maori information?

Perhaps it would be too radical for the NZ Herald to move so abruptly from it's position of cultural perception?  Are we seeing a change?  Or will we continue to see generations of Mike Hoskings?

The psychopathy aspect of disinformation

When the editors, producers and publishers of the media promote the Mike Hoskings it is time to ask why. Is it for financial gain (viewership & advertising revenue)? Or is the pursuit of perception management deeply entrenched in their beliefs?

And the target of their anti-Maori publishing efforts?  Language teachers.  Schools.  Kura Kaupapa Maori.  Kohanga Reo. Families.  School children.  Language learners.  Cultural revivalists. Non-Maori who are totally comfortable in Maori world.  Even those who might like to haka just a little?

My gosh, I fear for anyone daring to using the word 'Maori' around the Mike Hoskings type of people.

We could describe this negative attitude and behaviour as a kind of disease or some kind of form of psychopathy because there is very little empathy and remorse for the people they are affecting.

Psychopathy, sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy, is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits.

Source: Wikipedia

For example,  I'm really struggling to understand why school children studying Maori language would be a threat to financial and property power of non-Maori organisations in New Zealand. Why would a non-Maori person not active in the pursuit of Maori language start a discussion about 'Killing Te Reo'? Or even question the value of te reo if they have zero knowledge of the community and the language itself?

Their reason perhaps is only one-sided: to conduct disinformation and tune a negative perception of Maori language. Can anyone prove that point wrong?

Either way, the point is clear - we surely live in a very active system bent on developing a negative perception of Maori and other challenger minority groups (Mate Ma'a Tonga anyone?).  Racism was developed as control mechanism to control the settler populations thoughts about Maori. To maintain hegemony.

Nothing has changed. For all the new politicians, in the media world nothing has changed.

While the vicious thoughts of Mike Hosking are allowed by the producers, publishers and editors, so we are still in an age of psychological warfare in New Zealand.

Any Maori reading his, indeed know this to be sure.  It is a widely developed topic with international commentary, 'Racism: Tolerated and trivialised in New Zealand'.

But breaking these trends is made all the more difficult when mainstream media presents the trends as social norms. Last month, award-winning cartoonist Al Nisbet penned two satirical pieces on New Zealand's free breakfast programme for schoolchildren in lower decile schools.
The two pieces, published on May 29 and 30 in the Marlborough Express and The Press, respectively, portray characters that play into mainstream stereotypes of Maori and Pacific peoples. Selected characters are shaded in a brownish hue, presented as overweight, speaking improper English, belching, and expressing their value for government subsidies so they can spend money on wasteful activities, also portrayed in the cartoons: drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and gambling.

An asymmetric threat for cohesion

The perception management toward Maori & minorities has long been an asymmetric threat to peace between the cultures in New Zealand.  The polarisation agenda has put Maori at odds with non-Maori.

Asymmetric warfare can describe a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other's characteristic weaknesses. Such struggles often involve strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare, the weaker combatants attempting to use strategy to offset deficiencies in quantity or quality.

Source: Wikipedia

Perception manipulation is a barrier to peace.  It is a barrier to a dignitarian society - a society where everyone is given dignity, no matter your colour, race, language or beliefs.

That is why I wrote this article.  To make aware that we are not there. We are a long way off.  How can we make change?

To recap the problem: the drivers behind the disinformation and misinformation campaigns are fundamentally colonial. That is, media mechanisms designed to control the mind of the settler population for the avoidance and distraction away from the guilt about the acquisition of land and profit (for 150 years).  As Wakefields words echo:

"Possess yourself of the Soil and you are Secure."

Wakefield never revealed his game about the use of information.  Neither did Trump, but we can see very clearly in Cambridge Analytica the tools behind his success - psychology and information.

A Multi-Facted Response

There is a gaping need to address non-Maori "perception" of Maori, particularly as Maori success grows and feelings of powerless emerge within non-Maori favouring communities.

Independents may wish to publish and promote their own projects (broadcasts, online sites or writings) to develop an audience. Or, the wider community, business owners, Iwi facilitators and hapu leaders could look to strategic endeavours with like minded organisations (internationally and domestically)?

How can managing the anti-Maori sentiment not be on the agenda of any Maori or New Zealand business? Perhaps it is not on the agenda at all because those organisations are still against Maori?  Or is this job managed by employees without insight into this hot topic?  Or are the positive Maori messages suppressed by larger structural censorship vehicles?  Or are Maori professionals still without equal of their communications peers in the hierarchy?

Regardless, progress can be made. Fabio Rugge suggests in this article, there are things that can be done to counter information warfare;

Investments in technological innovation and cyber capabilities aside, there are probably at least five major endeavors.

Here are five things to do to fight 150 year old legacy of anti-Maori thinking:

Awareness & Education: Awareness about the threat, the game at play and the price at stake, both among the general public and at the top institutional level with influencers committed to seeing a peaceful bicultural New Zealand. Fabio suggests this is the first line of defence.

Values: Our societies’ coherence with our core values is our strength: information warfare represents an attack to an unavoidable vulnerability of open democracies, but this does not mean we shall question or negotiate our commitment in transparency, openness and the rule of law. Manaakitanga, Kaitiakitanga and Rangatiratanga are sound and true. As well as upholding our diligence in Treaty of Waitangi issues, with robust, frank, dignitarian discussion.

Refrain from Retaliatory Strategic Communication: The danger, in other words, is that of fuelling an escalation in the conventional domain with relevant repercussions. Instead, a viable option, although a very challenging one, is to respond to information warfare not retaliating in kind, but countering its desired effects. ISPI, for instance, is one of the many think-tanks that launched a fact-checking initiative to expose fake news; likewise, many institutions are focusing not on developing a counter-narrative, but rather on exposing the mechanism behind fake news, such as the “EU-East StratCom Task Force” launched in 2015 to counter Russian propaganda in Eastern Europe, the “EU myth-buster” and the US State Department’s Global Engagement Center.  Perhaps there is room for an initiative exposing the destructive anti-Maori narrative.

Strengthening Maori response-mechanisms at the institutional level: collaboration by Iwi, Maori authorities, hapu and interest groups. Maybe it is time to update at the domestic level our decision-making processes and to develop a strategy for countering the emerging threat of alternative nationalists and reversionists who are threatened by current advances in Maori success. A series of meetings to brief, form and discuss ideas.

Partner with those that are defending against the same menace.: There are many indigenous groups around the world sufferring under the the same colonial instruments.  Although connections may be limited due to capital constraints technology can assist with connections.

Information warfare is very hot issue in the international security debate.  Michael V. Hayden, who served as CIA Director under President George W. Bush, described the Russian interference in the last US presidential elections as the political equivalent of the 9/11 attacks - an event that exposed a previously unimagined vulnerability and required a unified American response.

We must transform the way we look at information. We must use information strategically to retain our beautiful way of life and ensure the survival of our cultures.  I would love to see development of a dignity based culture in New Zealand, one that is positive of Maori aspiration as well as many other cultures - this is not an exclusively Maori endeavour, but we first must address the deepest and long-standing historical grievance on our doorstep.

Kingi Gilbert

Kingi Gilbert

Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Whakaue. Producer. Lived in UK, Spain, Hawaii and Aotearoa. Married & father of two.