Opinion: Time for Pacific people to speak back to 'faceless' media

  • 17/11/2017
Passionate Tonga fans celebrating after their surprise victory over the Kiwis.
Passionate Tonga fans celebrating after their surprise victory over the Kiwis. Photo credit: Photosport

By 'Ana Tu'inukuafe

As a Tongan woman born in Aotearoa, it is an understatement to say I feel excited and proud at our team's electrifying performance at the Rugby League World Cup (RLWC).

The spirit of competitiveness is filling the streets with colour, sweeping up everyone in an infectious wave. Even if one does not know much about the game, it's hard not to get involved.

But it would also be an understatement to say media coverage of Tonga's two most recent games had disappointed the Pacific people.

In fact, it has left us utterly disappointed.

I need to make it clear that I never condone violence or anti-social behaviour.

But I was dismayed that the media ignored the unwavering pride from hundreds of thousands of Pacific fans, and instead became preoccupied with a small number of negative incidents following Tonga's games against Samoa and New Zealand.

Below are a few headlines that highlight my point:

  • Ugly scenes in Auckland as Tongan and Samoan league fans clash - November 1
  • More street battles between Tongan and Samoan league fans - November 2
  • League fans party, brawl in South Auckland - November 5

A picture of a baseball bat with a Tongan flag accompanied the last of these.

I pride myself on New Zealand's race relations and tell people how we are a leader compared to many other countries, but I am reminded time and time again that our cultural melting pot is not always respectful of the diverse cultures within it.

I like to believe my grandfather's choice to migrate here for a better life and my citizenship entitles me to the same treatment as everyone else.

But at other times I wonder how I could be so naive - it was only a few decades ago our Pacific people were brought over by the shipload to work hard labour in factories.

Our Pacific community is subjected to countless examples of imagery, footage and headlines that would make anyone feel like they were at the end of a long tunnel with a little white light at the end.

How should we react? Some people say we should just ignore this media coverage, that paying attention is giving in to what "they" want you to do.

But I feel that it is time to band together as a Pacific people in solidarity against the "faceless beast" media and try to engage in a two-way dialogue about accountability.

Our community leaders have been working tirelessly in response to the unfortunate incidents that occurred prior to Tonga's games against Samoa and the Kiwis.

One solution is creating a "fan zone" to give Pacific people a space to celebrate and minimise misconduct.

Tongan community leader Melino Maka makes a crucial point about this: "Organisers needed to work more closely to those who were in tune with the Tongan and wider Pacific communities.

"They need to attend and listen because we can actually help create a solution to help them. We can be part of the solution."

We see two key actions that need to take place to address the issues that have sprung up amidst RLWC fever:

  1. Holding mainstream media to account for fair and even representation.
  2. Having Pacific leaders at the decision-making table from the start, rather than as a reactive solution after-the-fact.

We are in full celebration mode, heart and soul, supporting our Pacific league teams. That's all that we signed up for.

We have all borne the brunt of mainstream media stories vilifying the entire community for the actions of small groups who unfortunately misbehaved.

These words lie upon us like unwanted layers. We carry them with us when we go to school, to work and participate as contributing citizens in our communities.

We are people of great wisdom, well-spoken orators and navigators, yet we are the last to receive an invite to sit at the table of planning, operation and leadership.

Our Pacific people have a long history in New Zealand. Those of us lucky enough to live here bring our allegiance, our labour and our love to the communities in which we live.

We deserve better than the second-class, hot-cold treatment we still receive in 2017.

'Ana Tu'inukuafe is a Pacific Community Co-Ordinator based in Auckland.