Brian Edwards Media

Much can be said on both sides – or can it?

Guyon Espiner

Disquiet is apparently being expressed by some National Radio listeners over what they claim to be Guyon Espiner’s excessive use of Maori words and phrases during his interviews. They don’t understand them. But Guyon’s wife is Maori and I find it entirely reasonable that her husband would want to be able to communicate with her and their children in both his own native tongue and hers.

So far so good. But should the same bilingualism be expected of Guyon’s primarily pakeha National Programme audience? Well, it’s entirely possible that more National and Concert Programme listeners understand Maori than listeners to commercial radio. But that’s hardly the point. English is the first and for many, including a majority of Tangata Whenua, the only language spoken and well understood by a considerable majority of New Zealanders.

So the question is: Is it Mr Espiner’s job or responsibility as a current affairs interviewer on National Radio to educate that majority of public radio listeners who neither speak nor reasonably understand Māori?

I would have thought not. His job is to conduct, on behalf of his substantial radio audience, interviews on social and political issues, both national and international, that are relevant to their lives. That brief must certainly include a raft of issues pertinent to Maori, including of course the survival of Te Reo.

But it is not and cannot be Mr Espiner’s job to educate his listeners in the Maori language. Indeed such an intention can only be seen as presumptuous. He is not Maori and, by his own admission, even his wife is amused by his efforts.

What is not in doubt, however, is that his efforts on behalf of the Maori language are well-intentioned and even noble. But they are, in my view, misplaced.

When I was a kid my mother and I lived in a small flat above a shoemaker’s shop in Dunmurry, a village near Belfast. After school I used to dump my school bag in the attic and rush down to chew the fat with the shoemaker, whose name was Bob Stewart, as he made the most beautiful men’s brogues. The cobbler, I learnt then, should stick to his last.

Good advice, Guyon.


  1. There are a multitude of things that I worry about and that upset me. The use of Te Reo on the radio is not one of them. In fact, it is SO far down the list, it will never see the light of day.

  2. Cue cries of “Racism!”

  3. Censorship

  4. Are you familiar with Radio NZs charter Brian?
    “reflect New Zealand’s cultural identity, including Māori language and culture”

  5. I do not have a problem with a few words of Maori thrown in here and there
    And sometimes it can be beneficial but it should not be an attempt to make people bilingual People will only learn a language if they want to

    Ireland has taught native Irish in schools for three generations the number of Irish that can speak it today is 3 per cent . The Irish Govt hopes it will be 5 per cent by by 2030 after throwing millions at it
    People listening to a national broadcast have a right to be able to understand every word of it

  6. Anything that makes this country more bilingual is a great thing. It only makes sense that this would focus on te reo Māori.

    In the 21st century unilingualism is tragic.

    • Surely, in the 21st century, unilingualism is inevitable?

      • Language only gives a basic understanding of the markets every one goes to. It doesn’t actually show any one how to make money. And that is the major issue of the 21st century – how workers add value.

        • That is a painfully anglophone argument. Yes, you can trade in English, but you don’t know what others are saying to each other in their language if it’s not English. This is precisely why Helen Clark’s tilt at the UN leadership was always going to fail: only the Kiwis, Brits, Aussies and Americans put forth unilingual people for these sorts of roles. And are aghast when they don’t get them.

          • The real question is additional. Is doubling down on the same content proven not to rate sustainable.

    • My mother was Welsh. The first language in her family was Welsh. Not surprisingly, by the time that I was five or six, I probably knew as much Welsh as English. But over the next umpteen years, my knowledge of English turned out to be very useful. Welsh … not so much.

      English paid for my groceries and much, much more. English helped me to work in a dozen or so countries – two-thirds of which did not ‘officially’ speak English as a first language. Welsh was useful only for speaking with my grandmother. And then (at the age of 99) she died; and my knowledge of Welsh was really only useful during very occasional visits to Cardiff Arms Park and, later, the Millennium Stadium.

      I like the Maori language. I like the sound of it. I even find myself using Maori words on a daily basis. But I also like the sound of Gustave Holst’s music. Let’s not kid ourselves that Maori, as a language, is ‘useful’ to the great majority of New Zealanders.

      • I like spoken Maori, too. It’s melodious, expressive, and of my homeland. I’m reminded of my time at school in Wanganui (no H) and Gisborne (also no H). But it’s essentially ornamental. Unlike Welsh, another decorative language (and equally as melodious as Maori, and another joy to hear), Maori is ancestral to only a few of us, whilst Welsh was spoken by all the forefathers of that land.

  7. I am a keen supporter of plenty of Te Reo on National Radio. That said, I don’t listen to it these days. What drove me away was the loss of the brilliant Mary Wilson, one of the last true hardcore interviewers on New Zealand media. For all his good intentions, I find John Campbell unbearable to listen to. They also got rid of the very good Maori news programme just before 6pm. And from 6.30pm to 7pm they regurgitate an earlier programmes at a time when they should be focusing on the latest important news from New Zealand and around the world. The final straw was turning the radio on around 6.30 and hearing about someone’s arcane research into some miniscular aspect of Sir Edmund Hillary and Mount Everest.

  8. If an interviewer uses an English word that I am unaware of (ignorant me!) do the same rules apply to that interviewer? That is to say, should he/she “Stop it right now cos I don’t know what he/she is saying!”?

    When viewed from this point of view, does the onus not lie on me to educate myself? And if it is a Latin term as used by Kim Hill in her interview of Don Brash this past weekend, is it my problem or hers?

  9. I’m with Brian. There are a few Maori words which flow well into New Zealand English (as MSWord et al would have it) but much more than the odd Kia Ora, whanau or Aoteoroa, and you’ve over-egged the omelette.

    That Espiner’s wife is Maori isn’t licence to mess with the public. For fifty years I’ve sold stuff. My wife for those years is Indian, but I’ve stuck to English because the message always got through.

    • Actually RNZ singed an agreement with Watea Radio to make good on public broadcasting obligation to produce a set percentage of broadcast in Reo. If you want censorship you should have migrated to America or Australia.

  10. A little taste of Te Rao will spoil nobodies breakfast.D.Witherow excepted.
    What I found really unsettling was the level of vituperative and racist abuse I found on Don Brashes’s Facebook page. New to me,but ugly stuff. And Ugly in that it came from the Left.

    And,Kim Hills interview was no help in that regard.Will He-Nill He, Brash is resolute in rejecting the “Separatist” label that Ms Hill kept leveling. And,reading out feedback that confirms that negative view that Brash is a racist white man is,simply,pejorative.

  11. My main reaction on listening to the Brash/ Hill interview was that he made an unwitting fool of himself, which is something of a worry. I have had dealings from time to time with Don over the years. I don’t agree with most of his political views but I have always perceived him to be an intelligent man who has occupied significant positions including Governor of the Reserve Bank, one of the most important in the country. I would expect someone at that level to keep themselves well informed on research in a wide range of areas including our history and anthropology. His evocation of the ‘Moriori’ was therefore alarming. No serious historian or scientist has believed in the existence of such a people in this country (the Chathams is a different matter) for nearly seventy years since it was exploded by the researches of Dr Roger Duff in his book “The Moahunter Period of Maori Culture” (as I recall the title). Awareness of that should be basic to the intellectual equipment of any educated New Zealander but Don missed out on that it appears

    • Fair to say then,that the sad fate of the Moriori does not diminish the status of the “First People”?
      Brutal,violent and cruel,but still “First”.

      I probably lack objectivity,being of largely Scots/Irish derivation, but the abject fate of those two races leaves me with a profound distaste for Sassenachs.

      I agree with your assessment of Mr Brash,and suffer some risks in defending his less tenable claims. Somewhere in the “Mystery,wrapped in an Enigma,etc, is a decent man struggling to defend himself from the label of “Separatist”.

      That,coupled with his tendency to say “Meh”,when finding a response, makes him sound unsure of his argument. That his point is possibly valid tends to get lost in the liberal shitestorm that follows his attempts to explain his position.

      Perhaps Media Training from B.E would make the pill go down,but I’m not so sure,laddie.

  12. What is not in doubt, however, is that his efforts on behalf of the Maori language are well-intentioned and even noble. But they are, in my view, misplaced.
    He “admits he enjoys winding those sort up” according to one news report. Dale Carnegie said “if you want to gather honey you don’t kick over the beehive”?

  13. Putting down people who are “monocultural”/”monolingual” is bigoted. It is like someone who studies German and French putting down someone who studies Engineering.

  14. Journalists are the least trusted group (down there with politicians).

    People don’t understand the fundamental shift in government since we seperated nation and state. The state is now neutral (neglectful) unless you are a minority. Minorities get a flow of blood (resources/voice); old white men/colonists get their voices stifled.

  15. ‘Task’at the end?