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05 February 2005

Maui fishes-up a PR strategy


From April this year, fisheries assets will progressively be transferred from Te Ohu Kai Moana (formerly the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission) to mandated iwi organisations.

The Maori Fisheries Act requires separation of ownership and management of each iwi's fisheries assets, and for the owning entity - the mandated iwi organisations - to report regularly to all known members of the iwi, including those living outside the rohe. As soon as iwi meet these requirements, their fisheries  assets will be transferred to them.

The communications requirements of the new Act will be a challenge for most iwi, with many of their members living well away from home. For example, Ngati Porou has 63,000 members, making it the second largest iwi in the country, but only 11,000 are understood to live in the rohe and only 14,000 are on the runanga database.

The runanga regularly reports at hui held on each Ngati Porou marae. Other communications include:

  • A hui a tau which normally attracts 100-150 members
  • A glossy annual report which is available on request
  • Ngati-Link a bi-monthly subscription-based newsletter with fewer than 1000 subscribers
  • An annual roadshow to reach members living in the major urban centres outside the rohe
  • A website
  • Radio Ngati Porou
  • Information packs and pamphlets
  • Media releases
  • Informal communications with tribal members returning to home marae for summer holidays, tangi and cultural events, and email networks of friends and family members

Despite communication initiatives such as these, many Maori are outside their iwi's communications loop. This results in the 'insider-outsider' tensions which are common to all large representative organisations.

Iwi fisheries asset owning companies will create further tensions if they communicate directly with members 'over the head' of the runanga. Also, questions will inevitably arise if - of all iwi business activities - only fisheries operations report directly to members.

While these challenges are unlikely to prevent the fishing businesses from meeting their communications obligations, there will be obvious cost and political advantages for each iwi if it sees the situation as an opportunity rather than a threat.

The obvious solution is for iwi to develop co-ordinated communications strategies for their runanga and businesses entities. This would enable the runanga as well as each business entity to report on its operations to members and share the costs of so doing.

Communications should not just be with iwi members either. It is in the interests of each business to be seen as a constructive and professional player within in its industry, in the wider community; with local, regional and central government and with relevant government agencies. It is relatively easy to identify those influential individuals outside the iwi who need to be reached and to tailor communications for their needs.

The biggest communications challenge will be with iwi members. In particular, the gap between the expectations of members - many of whom are poor - and the need to build fisheries and other business assets in the long-term interests of the iwi.

The mass media are unlikely to be much help in communicating such messages. Their coverage of Maori issues and Maori business performance heavily emphasises the negative.

To win on this issue  -

  • The fisheries asset owning company, the boards of the iwi's businesses and the runanga need to have a consistent message about the need to reinvest profits
  • The fisheries asset owning company needs to establish a reputation as the iwi's expert on fishing industry matters; and as an efficient and effective manager of the iwi's fisheries assets.
  • Iwi businesses and their asset owning entities need to be seen to spend their income wisely. But generosity should be shown at culturally appropriate times - providing kaimoana at hui, for instance.
  • A clear distinction needs to be drawn between how the asset owning companies and tribal businesses spend their income and how the runanga spends its dividends from these businesses.
  • A 'social dividend' needs to be provided to members. Aspects of this could be included in several parts of the communications strategy, ranging from training and education courses, through to the provision of culturally-relevant fishing-related information on the website for use in school projects.

To convey these messages, iwi first need to get their databases up and running. A lot of this can be done initially using personal and whanau networks.

Then, when the databases are populated, there will be the even bigger challenge of keeping them up-to-date. Interactive websites, with competitions, school project material and material of interest to different age groups, are great for this.

Such websites are quite expensive to maintain. They may well be criticised for this, as well as for the sometimes light-hearted content needed to keep members coming back time and again.

But the objectives of the exercise are improved communications and building a stronger iwi identity among the tribal disapora. And there's no better - nor,  in the long-term, more cost-effective - way to do the job.




- Trevor Walton

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