The Maori TV board of directors has intervened to kill the satirical comedy show Jonah of Tonga, which was due to start this week. It’s not clear whether viewers would have hated or loved the show. Amidst complaints from community leaders and politicians, the board is not letting viewers decide.
The title character Jonah of Tonga is a troublesome potty-mouthed Tongan student. played by the white Australian actor Chris Lilley. He wears blackface, and his depiction has raised heckles in the past with some viewing him as a stereotypical Pacific
Island youth. The fact he is white, adds insult to injury for some.
The character has appeared on TV One with little uproar, but there has been criticism of the Jonah of Tonga character overseas. Was it a smart decision the decision of management to run the show when the use of white people in blackface was always going to upset someone. Were Maori TV staff looking for trouble? Or is the board timid current fear of offending?
Secondly, how can the politically appointed board in reversing the staff decision when it is expressly prevented from doing so. In the past, the Maori TV board has been criticised for lack of support for the staff of the current affairs show Native Affairs, kowtowing to Maori Establishment figures. Has it happened again?
Radio New Zealand’s Mihi Forbes reported:
“An email document obtained by RNZ has revealed high-level board concerns about the show, where a white Australian comedian dresses up as a Tongan student.
The draft document, which has been shared between Māori Television’s current board members, says they “regret not being made aware in time to prevent the first programme from going to air”.
It said Māori would “feel insulted if non-Māori painted their face and proceeded to belittle our people”.
“We unequivocally apologise to our Tongan whanau,” said the document, which added that the broadcaster would never play the show again.”
The email also discussed concern over politicians questioning “our processes and judgement”, and suggested moving quickly.
Pacific Island politicians have expressed their concern over the screening of the show, with Minister for Pacific Peoples Alfred Ngaro saying it perpetuated negative stereotypes of Pacific people.” the RNZ report said.
It may be significant that the controversy has coincided departure of controverss=sial CEO part way through his contract.He resigned on May 8. Maxwell had been set to stay on until August. It is understood he has now left the Maori TV studios.