Weather forecaster Philip Duncan expresses 'disappointment' in New Zealanders triggered by his use of 'Aotearoa'

A leading weather analyst has faced fierce criticism online for introducing his forecasts in te reo Māori, with the brief greeting "Kia ora, Aotearoa" (Hello, New Zealand") attracting a spate of abusive comments - backlash he argues is completely unwarranted. 

Speaking to Magic Talk's Rural Today bulletin on Wednesday morning, WeatherWatch head analyst Philip Duncan - who presents informative videos outlining upcoming weather patterns and daily forecasts - spoke out about how his use of te reo Māori in a recent video had riled a number of viewers.

"I was surprised there was so much anger over using the word 'Aotearoa'. What really surprises me is the video was seven minutes long - and the intro was 1.8 seconds… writing [a complaint] takes way longer than just hearing it," he told host Dominic George.

"Another funny part was that I said, 'Kia ora, Aotearoa - the weather across New Zealand…' and went into seven minutes of English-only, and I'm just amazed at how that's triggered people. It surprised me quite a bit actually - it's depressing, it is quite depressing, to see that kind of anger."

Te reo Māori was made an official language of New Zealand under the Māori Language Act in 1987, alongside English. New Zealand Sign Language became another official language in 2006. 

In the 2018 Census, the five most common languages in New Zealand were English, te reo Māori, Samoan, Northern Chinese (including Mandarin) and Hindi. As of April 2020, almost one in five Māori adults said they could speak te reo, and a third said they could understand the language at least fairly well, according to Tatauranga Aotearoa Stats NZ.  

Yet despite efforts in recent years to revitalise te reo by broadening its use and encouraging uptake, te reo Māori is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as 'vulnerable'. It is only proficiently spoken by around one in 100 New Zealanders, with another 2.7 percent able to hold a basic conversation, according to census figures - roughly 185,000 people.

Duncan said it is disappointing that many New Zealanders are still showing resistance to embracing te reo Māori. He jokingly suggested that those who had felt compelled to air their grievances likely did not have much else going on in their lives. 

"As I replied to one of them, Aotearoa was around before New Zealand," he said. "It's not like I'm out there with a mission [to get] everyone speaking Māori, I just naturally say 'kia ora', I say it a lot more than I ever used to, probably because I fly on Air New Zealand a lot, and they've normalised a lot of Māori language.

"I said once on Twitter - before I quit Twitter - that New Zealand without Māori would just be Australia, we're just another Australia. It's the Māori language and culture that makes a big difference in New Zealand."

A number of viewers of Duncan's WeatherWatch forecasts were enraged by his use of the words, "Kia ora, Aotearoa" - or "Hello, New Zealand" - despite the rest of the video being in English.
A number of viewers of Duncan's WeatherWatch forecasts were enraged by his use of the words, "Kia ora, Aotearoa" - or "Hello, New Zealand" - despite the rest of the video being in English. Photo credit: Getty Images

Although Duncan acknowledged how dropping te reo into a predominantly English broadcast could be confusing for some, he maintained that a simple greeting should not be offensive to New Zealand viewers.

"I understand the feedback that it's confusing when there are Māori words in the middle of an English weather forecast - I can hear that - but I don't do that, though, I just said 'hello'," he continued. 

"I'm just really disappointed, more than anything, that there are people who are that angry about it."

Navigating the minefield of social media can be stressful at times, Duncan added, stressing the importance of developing a thick skin as the constant airing of unfiltered opinions can "bring you down".

In May, a local Facebook page with a significant following came under fire after it featured a post criticising the Treaty of Waitangi and taking aim at the media for using te reo and covering Māori issues.

The post, which was shared to the page NZ Farming by its founder, Tyler Fifield, was later deleted following fierce backlash from some of its 216,000 followers.

Fifield had claimed New Zealand's news outlets had "suddenly gone crazy on Māori language and other Māori issues" for money. The post was later condemned by Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon for its "divisive and harmful painting of Te Tiriti" as Aotearoa attempts to move towards a "more inclusive and cohesive society".