Arohatia te reo: NZ media cherish the language


2020 was a year dominated by a single story to a degree we’ve never before seen.

Covid-19 saturated the news agenda, appearing in more than a third of all stories tracked.

Beneath those headlines a more subtle change continued inching forward – the use of te reo Māori to help carve out a uniquely New Zealand sound and feel for our media.

Phrases like ‘papakainga’ (original home), ‘rangatahi’ (young people), and ‘kura’ (school) are some of the many examples of te reo making their way into the daily vernacular of our country’s media.  

Broadcast media got on the bandwagon too, embracing New Zealand’s indigenous language on our screens and radios.

Aotearoa’s State sector has had a particularly active role in advancing the normalisation of te reo – incorporating the language into the names of government departments and entities starting in 2017 with Oranga Tamariki and Kainga Ora in 2019. In 2020 the NZ Transport Agency adopted Waka Kotahi, the State Services Commission became Te Kawa Mataaho, and the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development embraced Te Tuapapa Kura Kainga – to mention just a few. 

Throughout the year, the news soaked up these changes.  

The media itself took part in revitalising the language. Stuff went so far as to apologise for its previous missteps and racism, committing to showcase Māori voices and setting up Pou Tiaki to give greater coverage of te ao Māori.

As language expert at University of Auckland John McCaffery put it: “Māori has gone mainstream.” 

However, Professor Rawinia Higgins, chair of the Māori Language Commission, says the process to thoroughly revitalise te reo Māori is a long one. “It can take one generation to lose the language and three generations to restore.” Seeing reo crop up daily can help New Zealanders recuperate the language. Something that we – and evidently the media – are keen to support.

The resurgence of te reo brings new challenges for media monitoring providers

Like all companies in our sector, we’ve invested in sophisticated voice-to-text tools to help surface more news, faster for our customers. Those tools have become a valued part of our workflow – and yet the rise of te reo exposes their limits. The best tools (currently, at least) are powered by global tech companies – and te reo is unfortunately low on their priority list.

Our view is that it’s not okay for a media monitoring provider to miss a mention of our transport agency, because ‘Waka Kotahi’ isn’t easy for speech to text engines to recognise

That’s why we’re proud of our blended approach to broadcast monitoring. A 100% NZ based team of monitors that know the market and the news that matters to us as New Zealanders – supported by a best in class technology foundation. 

A bespoke solution for a unique country. Our taonga.

Post by Evelyn Birch, media analyst