Chris Lilley’s mockumentary Jonah From Tonga has been axed from New Zealand indigenous broadcaster Maori Television after the board deemed it to be culturally inappropriate.
But a ‘disappointed’ leading Tongan advocate in New Zealand has described the decision as a victory for a vocal minority.
Chair of the Maori Television board, Georgina te Heuheu, said in a statement that once the full board became aware that the show was screening on Thursday, a decision was made to pull the show off the airwaves.
‘We are a Maori media outlet with our own standards, and a mandate to protect and promote the Maori language and culture,’ she said.
New Zealand’s Minister for Pacific Peoples, Alfred Ngaro, had earlier said the series perpetuates negative stereotypes of Pacific people.
Announcing the decision Georgina te Heuheu said ‘as a leading indigenous broadcaster we have a responsibility to present all cultures with a degree of respect and aroha [love] not least those of our Pacific whanaunga [relatives].
She added that a replacement show, Te Taumata Kapahaka, will replace Jonah From Tonga next Thursday.
The head of the New Zealand Tonga Advisory Council, Melino Maka, expressed disappointment in the decision, telling Radio New Zealand the board had buckled to a vocal minority.
Melino acknowledged Jonah From Tonga ‘may not be to everybody’s taste, but when I talk to some of the young Tongans, they think it’s funny. They can relate.’
‘I’m just really disappointed in Māori TV.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Chris Lilley for comment.
A spin-off from Chris’s critically lauded Summer Heights High, Jonah From Tonga follows the antics of Jonah Takalua, a rebellious 14-year-old Australian of Tongan descent.
Chris played the title character in the show, which courted controversy when it first aired due to the comedian’s use of ‘blackface’ and the perpetuation of what some claimed were negative stereotypes about Tongans.
Speaking to news.com.au in 2014, then SBS Tongan program presenter Meliame Fifita slammed the show as reinforcing stereotypes.
‘It’s quite concerning that it’s going to create a stereotype of Tongans as troublemakers, and the younger ones will think that’s the way to behave,’ she said.
ABC TV head of comedy defended the show to the publication arguing that it was not racist.
‘Jonah from Tonga plays with stereotypes, but it’s doing so to make an observation about the narrow-minded attitudes expressed by some of its characters, including Jonah’s own,’ he said.
He added that aside from Jonah’s character, ‘every other Tongan or Islander character in the series is presented as a well-rounded, believable person without comic traits’.
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