This paper makes a discourse analytic appraisal of newspaper coverage of the events surrounding a Maori protest at Mimiwhangata Lodge, a Department of Conservation property in Tai Tokerau (Northland). The analysis is set in a brief commentary on the trends in recent attempts at evaluation of racism in the New Zealand media. From here it launches a reflexive style of analysis which draws upon the author's knowledge of regularities and patterns in Pakeha discourse of Maori/Pakeha relations and my own subjectivity. This work lays the foundation for a commentary on the role of the media and of audience ideologies in the reproduction of racism in Aotearoa.
A number of local publications have recently dealt with the role of the media in constructing or otherwise determining aspects of social reality in this country (Bell, 1991; Hirsch and Spoonley, 1989; McGregor, 1991). Such work is congruent with major international studies including those of Gans (1978), Hartman and Husband, (1974) and van Dijk (1985) which share a basic constructionist view of the media. My own work, which is focused specifically on the language Pakeha people use to talk about Maori/Pakeha relations (McCreanor, 1989; Nairn and McCreanor, 1990, 1991), has recently been redirected to look at the way in which such language works on and in the print media in Aotearoa. This shift arises partly from a discontent with some contributions to the Hirsch and Spoonley edition which for me fails to get down on the basic issue of how the media produces the biased effects that are so easily and frequently observed.
In brief this paper will suggest that a helpful and refreshing approach to the general issue of the role of the media (and other communication systems) in the establishment and maintenance of social and political forms is to be found in studies of discourse arising within social psychology and the focus that such work brings to the study of ideology. In this regard I was greatly interested in a recent article by Cochrane (1990), in which she notes
a desperate need to examine in detail, in the New Zealand context, the factors which influence the reporting of Maori issues and the effects of such reporting on the public. (p25)
Cochane's paper focuses attention on a 'multiplicity of factors' which affect the impact of media activities and produces some helpful quantitative data to the effect that negative aspects of the 'Maori presence' (crime, illness, welfare dependence, etc) are over-represented, while other aspects of the topic (culture, housing, education, etc) are under-represented. However, elsewhere the work confounds a reductionist, quantitative methodology with a social constructionist theoretical position, so that although she includes theoretical statements such as
the media draw upon the most broadly held common social values
and assumptions ... [rather] ... than simply reflect and describe
significant events. (p5)
It would seem that the significance of an article ultimately comes down to the interpretation of the reader, who may adapt and translate it according to preconceived attitudes or ideas. (p19)
Cochrane is positioned by the theoretical underpinnings of content analysis, into a quantitative research frame. In practice she makes a series of analyses, particularly of newspaper headlines, which are then presented, in contradiction to her given theoretical stand, as if they were authoritative, objective interpretations. Re-analysis of one of her examples illustrates the problem of attempting to use such analyses to draw the kinds of conclusions she does about the media bias in the reporting of Maori issues.
As part of the examination of the proposition, ' the media provide sensational and exaggerated headlines' (p13), Cochrane adopts a procedure by which a considerable sample of headlines relating to Maori issues, drawn from two daily papers, are rated 'positive', 'negative' or 'neutral'. This is illustrated with several examples of the evaluation process including the headline
'SHIRLEY PLAN MAY HALT COURT CASE' (p13)
This is rated 'negative' with the given explanation that the word 'Halt' 'represents an obstacle'. My reading of this interpretation is that it assumes the 'court case' is a good thing so that the disruption is a bad thing. The headline refers to attempts by the then Minister of Fisheries Ken Shirley to solve aspects of the Muriwhenua claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, relating to Individually Transferable Quota of fish stocks. The Government sought to sell these ITQs on the open market and Muriwhenua had taken legal action against it. Given this background (itself a reading) multiple interpretations of the headline are possible. For example if Muriwhenua are bringing a potentially damaging action against the Crown, then stopping the action can be seen as a positive thing by a reader supportive of the Government of the day. In another vein, a reader opposed to that Government might be even more adamantly opposed to making any concessions to Maori and therefore be pleased that their plans might be disrupted. A further interpretation might see the actions of the Minister as frustrating Maori ambitions in a way which heightens their sense of injustice and spurs them to a liberating uprising. It can also be noted that multiple interpretations which might concur with Cochrane's chosen evaluation, but for different reasons, can be accessed. For example the 'Shirley Plan' might be considered an undesirable compromise with undeserving claimants; halting the case may be seen as a bad thing if the reader believes Maori would have lost it.. A final point to note is that most of these positions are not unequivocal and contain their own contradictions. The reader who in my first instance fro example wanted to save the Government the embarrassment of a court case may never-the-less see the politicians trapped against unsympathetic public opinion arising from perceptions of the special deal of the 'Shirley Plan'.
The analyses of this headline are presented not as a critique of Cochrane per se (despite their relevance to the conclusions her study draws about media bias on the topic) but rather to introduce and illustrate the complexity, variability and contextuality (especially in relation to the readers contribution) of interpreting text. My claim is that the multiple interpretations are not merely an 'interesting' intellectual exercise, but a strong reflection on the dependence of print media stories on the linguistic resources its readership brings to any given item in achieving particular interpretations of events. This suggestion calls for some exposition of my theoretical, political and practical orientation.
The notion that there is 'dependence' between media and audience for me derives from discourse theory and studies of ideology; the idea that the media might be 'achieving' interpretative directions also assumes that political and ideological forces are at work. For a number of years now Ray Nairn and I have been working on the way in which a discourse of Maori/Pakeha relations is constituted and maintained to preserve the established social order. Some aspects of the Pakeha system such as the physical force of the police and the military and the effects of institutional racism, need little introduction. Less obvious perhaps is the contribution of ideology and in particular the role of language in the routine, hour-by-hour sustaining of the existing oppressive social relations between Maori and Pakeha, yet as Wetherell and Potter (1992) point out such talk is demonstrably material in its effects; it is a crucial path by which Pakeha construct, interpret and so enact these social relations.
In practical terms the most powerful influences on what I do have been the discourse analytic works of Potter and Wetherell (1987), Billig (1987), Billig et al (1988) and Reicher (eg, 1984). Developing ideas advanced within social psychology by Moscovici (1981) such work, rather than seeing language as an unproblematic resource in the study of more important 'psychological' issues, treats it as a topic in its own right and seeks to study it as a potent force shaping and even determining our interpretation and understanding of our social and indeed our physical worlds.
In placing language in centre stage, discourse analysis has been able to investigate variation as well as regularity in peoples talk. One broad finding is that speakers tailor their delivery to the particular audience to hand, juggling the resources available to them on a subject in order to optimise their chances of communicating successfully or persuasively. Another key idea is that various renditions of particular topics are more easily accepted and therefore more successfully communicated than others. Such material is the basis of commonsense or what Billig et al (1988) have called 'lived ideology' - not the masterplan of the powerful elite, but the commonplaces by which large sectors of the population interpret and make sense of their daily experiences.
Discourse analytic theory (Potter and Wetherell, 1987) suggests that among the variables in context are included what have been termed the linguistic resources, which are conceived of as general patterns of ideas, images and language derived from a person's direct and indirect experiences. More recent work (Nairn and McCreanor, 1991; Wetherell and Potter, 1992) raises and elaborates the linkage between such resources and an overarching ideology. Following Billig et al (1988) such resources can be expected to embody inherently contradictory positions on any given issue, thus preserving to the reader the greatest possible flexibility, in the interpretation of diverse experiences.
It was against this kind of background that our first efforts in the field were set. We began work on the submissions written by Pakeha to the Human Rights Commission in 1979 following the Haka Party Incident at Auckland University. This confrontation between Maori and Pakeha youth received wide media coverage and public attention and the 220 contributions from individual Pakeha ran to some 600 pages. On this data-base we used and refined the craft-reading process outlined by Potter and Wetherell (1987) which entails examining texts in detail for the particularities as well as the commonalities and regularities with which language, ideas and images are used to argue various points in debating the significance of the Haka Party Incident or the state of Maori /Pakeha relations in general.
I want to introduce very brief sketches of some of the widely used patterns which we read from this project and then to examine the use of a few of these in relation to a newspaper article as an illustration of their variability or flexibility in use.
These scant outlines give little indication of the scope or function of the various patterns. Each can be deployed alone or in concert or contrast to other patterns. Each can be evoked by a few words and yet has plenty of room for qualification, explanation or justification. When the detail is filled in they are close to Moscovici's (1981) idea of social representation. Together, I feel that they represent a considerable proportion of the linguistic resources available to those who wish to counter challenges from Maori or others, concerning the state of Maori/Pakeha relations. The list is by no means exhaustive and other patterns such as those relating to the Moriori and more recently the Treaty of Waitangi, are probably familiar to most.
These resources can be used to tell what Fish (1980) has referred to as a standard story, a common, sensible-to-most, account of, in this instance, Maori/Pakeha relations. These positive characteristics of such stories are highlighted in relief as it were, in the consideration of the hard psychological work required to either hear or speak alternative stories; and even when a speaker makes such an effort there is still a high risk that the message will not be accepted by the audience.
To illustrate this way of working with media stories, I have chosen a single story drawn from an archive of all media publications on race relations, collected by the Race Relations Office for the duration of 1990. The particular article is one from the entire coverage (some 70 items from news reports, editorials and letters to the editor) evoked by events at Mimiwhangata Lodge, north of Whangarei, in mid-January of that year. This item was published by the Evening Post of Wellington (see appendix for the whole text of the article) and I have chosen it because it is at once representative and idiosyncratic in relation to versions of the incident carried by other papers and illustrates the importance of some of the Pakeha linguistic resource patterns in the telling its story. I will not be trying to argue that these are the only elements at work; we will encounter others and different tricks of the wordsmith's trade. My reading is intended as a device to highlight aspects of the original text and the resources I draw upon in making my interpretation, rather than as an authoritative deconstruction. (I have numbered each sentence for ease of reference.)
1990 was the year of the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Maori groups had promised that the celebrations would be the focus of major protests. The story broke on the 15th of January; was this the start of the big push? The headline sets up an immediate opposition between Maori and Pakeha.
The term 'Maori Activists' creates the expectation that the Maori involved will do something assertive and contentious. True to form the action is to 'Take Over' with its implicit notions of use of physical assertion or even force, so my expectations are fulfilled and I can access a series of almost graphic images of demonstrations or protests complete with banners, staunch Maori people and grievance strong in the air. At the same time I have a catalogue of known 'activists' that I can call up and associate with this particular protest, beginning perhaps to imagine what they would do or say in this instance. The term 'Maori activist' is a common variation on the 'Stirrers' pattern referred to above and the kinds of material I have listed as flowing from the use of the term in the headline are common in talk centred on the pattern.
The word 'Lodge' for me calls up a different set of associations and my first thought is of the recreational accommodation of some European aristocracy. The 'Maori activists' are thus targeting a prestigious symbol from within my cultural realm. At this stage I do not know that the formal name of the building under protest is Mimiwhangata Lodge, and even when I do the double life of the headline does not diminish the initial impact because the actual name is also strongly evocative of prestige and privilege; wider still my reading indicates that Mimiwhangata Lodge is highly sought-after, quality, public rental accommodation operated by the Department of Conservation in a coastal park, and a name like Mimiwhangata Motel despite the appealing alliteration, somehow just lacks that elite edge.
The point that at this stage there is no indication as to what the protest is about reinforces a general expectation in the 'Stirrers' pattern that even if there is no particularly pressing cause, Maori activists will make a fuss for political gain. Indeed there is a common view that most of the grievances are recent but popular innovations derived from a particular but erroneous reading of history.
Another point is that the headline is unattributed in terms of who is speaking and although it is almost certainly a sub-editor's gloss on the story, its anonymity has the interesting effect of making it appear as a simple statement of the facts of the matter. Not only is there no clearly interested party pushing a particular line, but the underpinning claim to objectivity and neutrality on the part of the media is widely known and as such plays an important role in the acceptance of the validity of the headline in ordinary reading. The analysis to this point challenges those assumptions by demonstrating the different loadings carried by the words of the headline and by drawing attention to the issue of 'voice' and the impact of the treatment of various speakers on the interpretation of the story.
The lead paragraph supports the general thrust of the interpretation so far providing various developments of the highly coded forms of the headline.
The target of the action has now become a 'luxury' lodge confirming the opposition set up in the headline, but the conflict is now portrayed as being between the protesters and the Department of Conservation. The first intimation of the reason for the action is given and belongs firmly within my expectations of 'Maori Activists'; intransigent until demands are met, grievances often focused on land. While direct quotation is not employed in this sentence, the use of the word 'saying' indicates that the call to 'return land' comes from the protest group and is their chosen wording. The issue of the nature of the groups demand is reiterated a number of times through-out the passage and evolves steadily in the process.
The name 'Howard Reti' does not appear in my list of 'Stirrers', so the 'leader' is not one of the big names and his followers - 'young', a 'group' - do not quite fit with that image created in the headline, offering a partial explanation of the softening of the terminology in the lead paragraph. The phrase 'the group of seven young Ngati-wai' helps never-the-less to create an image of unknown, unpredictable character for the protesters; this arises partly in the use of the tribal name which is unfamiliar and partly their anonymous uniformity. The Maori spokesperson is permitted to speak and what he says at least as reported indirectly, dovetails with the 'Stirrers' pattern, with the expectations from the headline; open defiance of the laws of ownership. And the use of the word 'indefinitely' underscores the tone; the protesters will not leave voluntarily unless their demands are met.
The next sentence begins to provide crucial elaboration of the situation.
Because this sentence is unattributed, I cannot be certain as to who is responsible for the variation of the protesters requests, but the call for 'clear signs' that authorities are 'willing to discuss ' represents a major change from the way in which I have read the Maori position so far. This shift is the first of several which, by means of an interplay between direct and indirect reportage, have the effect of obscuring the purpose of the protest to the extent of producing an overall impression that the people involved are self-contradictory and unsure of what they are actually doing.
Sentence 5 re-emphasises the opposition set at the start.
It is not stated that the 'family' referred to is Pakeha, but my expectations that this is the case are enhanced on being told that their holiday is 'long-planned' and 'booked'. Such characteristics are a strong part of my cultural base and I am immediately on defence when they are attacked or threatened. My sympathies are thus further recruited in support of the displaced family and against the Maori group. In addition here, the fact that this family has been physically displaced by the actions and presence of the protesters, along with the repetition of the phrase 'took over', reinforces the initial impressions established at the beginning of the article. A further boost is taken from the injustice of imposing political posturing on the leisure time of others; the phrase - keep politics out of sport - long applied to the issue of sporting contacts with South Africa, resonates here.
The next two sentences work together to produce a striking rhetorical effect.
Mr Reti speaks again, complaining that the process of taking a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal is 'time consuming and costly'. By now my sympathies are running firmly against him and my ready retort is that I should bloody well think any process that might result in the obtaining of more than 12,000 acres of paradise should be 'time consuming and costly'. The issue of claims and grievances and the existence of the separate court the Waitangi Tribunal to consider them also keys the privilege pattern. In an egalitarian and democratic society, the world of the level playing field, why is it that Maori have these special arrangements, funded with taxpayer's money, to look after their interests? This is an ongoing source of resentment and to have the spokesperson complain about the demands this system places on Maori rubs more salt in the wound.
And sentence 9, another of the short rhetorical devices like the one examined above, reinforces this line, with me fuming - 'but if the land is so precious to you, you've got to expect to sweat for it...or are you another one of these Maoris trying to get something for nothing...?' My expectations about Maori and bad Maori in particular are easily accessed. The first sentence of the next paragraph continues the process of clouding the Maori intent in the protest.
We have shifted from a demand for the return of land, through to a call for discussion, finally to making the protest simply draw attention to the issue. The sentence 11 seems to put an end to any credibility Mr Reti might have had. After all even I have enough knowledge of Maori culture to know that proper Maori, good Maori don't even breathe without consulting their kaumatua. This trouble-maker has not taken this basic step and has thus blown it in both Pakeha and Maori terms.
The rest of the passage could be similarly dealt with but I do not have the space and the case can be argued on what we have. The remainder of the text is given over to a Department of Conservation spokesperson who effectively reinforces the established view of the inappropriateness of the Maori action and seeks its end, and further comments which discredit Mr Reti in relation to local kaumatua.
This news story is structured around an opposition between Maori and Pakeha which is to a large extent built around the two related patterns of 'Stirrers' and 'Good Maori/Bad Maori'. The tension between the protesters and the Department of Conservation, Maori and the Crown, the protesters and the family, is illustrated in each instance by making use of the resources available from the two major patterns and others. The success of the story in reaching a mainstream Pakeha audience is dependant on its ability to resonate with what passes for commonsense in the issue at hand.
Three main points emerge from the analysis presented here. Firstly the reading given relies heavily on my knowledge of a commonsense of Maori/Pakeha relations and in particular on those resources which lend themselves to strongly negative constructions of Maori dissent from the status quo and protest on specific points of grievance. I feel that the strength of this claim can be illustrated in a brief consideration of the impact of alternative constructions of the event which could account for the 'facts' and yet support a completely different interpretation of them. If for example we consider how the headline might have been written from other perspectives we might generate something like
HOLIDAY WRECKS PARK PROTEST
or more accessibly
LAND GRIEVANCE SPARKS PROTEST
With energy, commitment and understanding a reporter could easily develop this latter example into a coherent and readable account of the events at Mimiwhangata. The problem with all of these alternatives is that they would be unacceptable to the vast mass of the readership as a result of the pervasive ideology of Maori/Pakeha relations and thus politically and commercially threatening to the newspaper involved.
A second issue is the way in which the story evolves from the crisp, alarming images of the headline to a far more low key, puzzling event as the detail is added in. In part these changes can be tracked through the presentation of the aims of the protest, which as I have noted in the analysis, evolve steadily from apparently clearcut radical demands to an almost contradictory stance which seeks only to draw attention to the issue. One of the important achievements of this process is that despite drawing heavily on the words at least indirectly reported, of a Maori spokesperson, the item renders incomprehensible or at least inadequate, the Maori explanation of what was going on. The other part of this dynamic is that the media explanation of what is going on is steadily strengthened as the Maori version is obscured.
Thus the net effect is to marginalise the protest as being improper according to various standards including Maori ones and Pakeha notions of 'fair play'. Whether they were raised by the spokesperson in this interview we may never know but questions of sovereignty, of justice and history can't compete in such a setting and where they are spoken of by Mr Reti in other reports, they serve only to enhance the air of unreality.
Finally, I have no difficulty in agreeing with and extending Cochrane's proposition that headlines exaggerate events and think that I can go beyond the usual explanation - bad news is good news for the media - to suggest some of the reasons for this. While it is widely understood that much of the reading of newspapers rarely progresses beyond the headlines, the implication of this is that the media in their ideological role have therefore to a considerable extent to do their work within the space of a few words. That is they are often required to tell their story in the fleeting moment as the eye passes over the page amid other tasks and activities and must draw on the commonsense ideologies to do this or risk confusion or rejection. Beyond the issue of fundamental ambiguity, I would suggest that this is a factor in the richness which emerges from the analysis of headlines when deconstructed. Each word is like code for a raft of ideas, images and associations by which the interpretation is mediated and the combined effect of the elements builds an impression which can both compliment or stand instead of the story as a whole.
The sociologist Stuart Hall (1985) has posed the question as to how it is that ideology is reproduced in society without the direct intervention of the state. Speaking specifically of the media he notes
' ...we cannot adequately explain the structured biases of the media in terms of their being instructed by the state what to print...how is it that such large numbers of journalists...tend to reproduce, again and again, accounts constructed within fundamentally the same ideological categories.'On the basis of the work described here I suggest that a partial answer lies in the idea that media stories both construct and are constructed by those commonsense ideological patterns and associations shared by their audience. The patterns act as boundaries or fields within which the commonsense of a social group can flow with ease and beyond which a speakers discourse can be expected to meet with hostility or incomprehension. It is the reliance of media accounts and other discourse on the kinds of pattern described here which ensures the reproduction of our social order without recourse to an ideological police force.
Maori Activists Take Over Lodge
By Sue Scott, Maori Affairs Reporter
Maori protestors have taken over a luxury lodge north of Whangarei, saying that they will stay there until the Conservation Department agrees to return land to the Ngati-wai people.
Protest leader Howard Reti said the group of seven young Ngati-wai planned to stay at Mimiwhangata Lodge indefinitely.
The group was frustrated at the time it took to win land back from the Crown and wanted clear signs that the department was willing to discuss the return of the 3194 ha Mimiwhangata Coastal Park.
The protest group took over the lodge during the weekend, arriving at the same time as a family that had booked the lodge for a long-planned holiday.
The Wilson family had been invited to stay on at the lodge with the group, and was offered the homes of group members as alternative holiday accommodation, Mr Reti said.
The family declined and returned to Auckland.
Mr Reti said Ngati-wai had people had been researching the land's history for a Waitangi Tribunal claim, but the process was costly and time consuming.
The land was precious to Ngati-wai, he said.
The purpose of the protest was to draw attention to the issue. Mr Reti said he hoped kaumatua would support the young people's stand.
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