Friday, June 4, 2010

Mike Butler: Framing the race debate

A throwaway line by a newsreader on Thursday shows how a carefully framed debate moulds public opinion. One News reported that Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee was “forced to apologise” for failing to consult an East Coast tribe before awarding a permit to Brazilian company Petrobras to drill for oil in the Raukumara Basin off the Bay of Plenty. Newsreader Simon Dallow concluded that Brownlee “said he would try to liaise with iwi on permits involving their foreshore and seabed in the future”.

Hmm, I thought, the foreshore and seabed is vested in the Crown, according to the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, the contents page of the Act shows no requirement for tribal consultation, and the Bay of Plenty is beyond the area over which East Coast tribe Ngati Porou has negotiated it’s own deal. So why does Dallow, and Brownlee, conclude that tribal consultation is in order, and that the foreshore and seabed currently belong to tribes? It has a lot to do with how the debate has been framed.

A “frame” is a social theory that holds that people have, through their lifetimes, built series of mental emotional filters, which they use to make sense of the world. The choices they then make are influenced by their frame or emotional filters. “Framing” is a term used in media studies, sociology, and psychology, and refers to the social construction of a social phenomenon by mass media sources or specific political or social movements. A “frame” therefore defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others.

Framing is effective because it provides a mental shortcut. Since people ordinarily prefer to do as little thinking as possible, frames provide people a quick and easy way to process information. Therefore, people will use frames to make sense of incoming messages. This gives the sender and framer of the information enormous power to use these schemas to influence how the receivers will interpret the message. Frames operate in four key ways, according to political communication researcher Jim A. Kuypers, who wrote, Rhetorical Criticism: Perspectives in Action. They define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies.

Therefore, what frames exist to interpret and persuade New Zealanders on race-relations? There is the “honour the treaty” frame, which lays the blame for a wide range of Maori problems on prejudicial laws, regulations, acts, omissions, policies, or practices of the Crown. The “Crown”, which denotes the executive function of representative government in New Zealand, is deemed in the wrong, and claimants, in the right.

Remedies comprise large amounts of cash, tracts of land, various other resources, an abject apology from the Minister of Treaty Settlements, and a grudging statement from the claimants that the remedy only really goes part of the way towards healing the immense hurt of the alleged wrong.

The promotion of the Maori language exists as another frame. To follow Kuypers’ analysis of defining the problem, diagnosing a cause, making a moral judgement, and suggesting a remedy, the perceived problem was the low use of the Maori language. “The Maori language was not understood as an essential expression and envelope of Maori culture, important for Maori in maintaining their pride and identity as a people”, according to History Online.

The cause? The Maori language was suppressed in schools, either formally or informally, so that Maori youngsters could assimilate with the wider community. This was arguably bad, therefore the remedy would be to make Maori an official language of New Zealand, institute Maori Language Week, create Maori-language only schools, require government departments to have both an English and a Maori name, broadcast a bit of Maori on Radio NZ, set up Maori TV, and so on.

This included the incorporation of the macron into official English, as in the word “Māori”, in a failed bid to improve pronunciation.

An interesting point is that promotion of the Maori language has not greatly increased use of the language. Fluency in Maori was reduced to four percent of the population in 2010, with only 24 percent of Maori people able to hold a conversation in Maori about everyday things. Another interesting point is that the Maori language and New Zealand Sign Language are official languages of New Zealand. English, the medium for teaching and learning in most schools, is a de facto official language by virtue of its widespread use.

The renaming of landmarks, such as Aoraki Mount Cook and Taranaki Mount Egmont, as well as the New Zealand Geographic Board's vote to change the spelling of Wanganui to Whanganui was a part of this process.

The use of Maori-culture welcoming ceremonies and choreographed war dances at official functions, school prizegivings, at the opening of government buildings, and at funerals, have created a Maori-cultural frame for day-to-day existence in New Zealand.

The inclusion of imported Church of England Christianity at official functions has largely been replaced by trappings of Maori ceremony and a somewhat fawning attitude to Maori animism.

The national anthem is now sung with the Maori version first, then the English version, the Maori-language lovesong Pokarekare Ana replaces the hymn Jerusalem, the Tino Rangatiratanga separatist flag has been flown along side the royal blue New Zealand national symbol.

With the Maori Party in government, the scene has been set and the actors are in place to cement a radical racial shift, or so the radicals believe, so that a separate Ngapuhi state, a Tuhoe nation, and tribal ownership of the foreshore and seabed, and the subsequent flow of oil, gas, and mineral royalties, would simply be the next step.

However, one technical point for Brownlee – an apology is not yet required. Another for Dallow – the foreshore and seabed is currently vested in the Crown.

Framing (social sciences)
'Framing the Debate,' by Jeffrey Feldman: Magic Words (April 8, 2007)
George Lakoff : How conservatives use language to dominate politics, by Bonnie Azab Powell, NewsCenter | 27 October 2003,
History of the Maori language - Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori, History Online.


Anonymous said...

I to picked up on the gaff re "their" foreshore and seabed. Make no mistake, separatism by stealth is making steady progress. It would serve Brownlee well to apologise to the majority of New Zealanders who presently share the mistaken belief they will be keepers of the foreshore and seabed through the crown.
Ah well, back to head in the sand, maybe it will all be OK.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that this 'framing' is far more common than we might realise. Isn't there a term 'social marketing' where the government runs campaigns to shape our opinions. How much of our thinking is manipulated by government and the media?

Anonymous said...

Your statement that "the Maori language is not used on a widespread basis" - yet! You are a fool! The person or persons that tried to stamp out the use of the language needs to be 'shot'. After years of speaking only English the hard yakkah of learning the Maori language is far from easy but at over 60 I will do my damnest to learn and eventually speak it. It is the same as the absurdity of the Act Party denying special Maori seats on the Auckland Supercity Council. Maori have a long way to go but be assured of the changes that are politcally on the way

Anonymous said...

I voted for this government but we have just changed one pack of bastards with another.
The issue of the [secret unadvertised] Indigenous agreement to united nations ,and the special $5o million forest credit to Maori for securing their vote to attend Copenhagen and thus implement their insidious omissions trading scheme.Now it appears that they have already capitulated and given Maori the Sea Bed and Foreshore .
Key has become a traitor to our country and should be treated accordingly
There will be blood on the ground before we have this settled.

Anonymous said...

Its alright guys, with the amount of debt NZ owes you may not have to worry about Maori owning the foreshores and seabeds, some anonymous corporation in Geneva probably already does. I agree, Keys is a traitor, hes selling NZ off to overseas "investors". The jokes on us.