Advertisement pulled due to incorrect pronunciation of Māori place name

Article  \  3 Jun 2021

In April 2021, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of New Zealand upheld a complaint against a radio advertisement that mispronounced the Māori place name, Rangiora. The complaint was upheld on the basis that the mispronunciation was disrespectful, caused harm to te reo Māori (the Māori language) and was likely to offend consumers.

The Advertising Standards Authority of New Zealand

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigates alleged breaches of the ASA Advertising Code (the code) in New Zealand. The code emphasises social responsibility and truthful representation as two fundamental principles of responsible advertising.

The code provides specific rules around privacy, consent, decency and offensiveness, exploitation, safety, distress, health and well-being and protection of the environment. Rule 1(c) of the code provides that advertisements must not contain anything that is indecent, exploitative or causes widespread offence. Grounds for offence include race, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation, marital status and disability.

Background to the ASA Rangiora decision

Rangiora is the Māori place name for a town in the South Island of New Zealand, meaning ‘calm after a storm’ or ‘a place of peace after a time of trouble’. Although Rangiora is correctly pronounced Ra/ngi/o/ra, the name is often mispronounced as Rang/ee/ora, especially by the predominantly non-Māori population.

The complainant in question was concerned that the mispronunciation of Rangiora in a radio advertisement showed a lack of knowledge and respect for the Māori language. The advertiser defended the complaint, stating that the advertisement had been on the air for five years and that the majority of people living in Rangiora pronounced the place name incorrectly.

The ASA considered the complaint with reference to the Code’s Principle of Social Responsibility, and Rule 1(c) of the code which prohibits indecent, exploitative, degrading, harmful or offensive advertising content. The ASA upheld the complaint on the basis the mispronunciation was disrespectful and offensive. In reaching its decision, the ASA referred to two previous precedent decisions (No. 20/211 and 20/273), that had also dealt with the incorrect pronunciation of Māori place names - Taranaki and Wainoni.

Māori language revival

Until the 1800s, Māori had been the predominant language of New Zealand. With the arrival of European settlers and traders, te reo Māori increasingly came under threat. The Native Schools Act of 1867 phased out Māori from schools and made English the primary language of instruction. By the 1980s, fewer than 20% of Māori spoke te reo well enough to be classed as native speakers.

Recently, there has been a strong push towards the revitalisation of te reo by teaching Māori in the school curriculum, using Māori as an instructional language and developing supportive messaging surrounding these efforts. As mass media plays an important role in forming and influencing public opinion, encouraging correct pronunciation in advertisements can also be an effective way strengthen and reinforce the Māori language.

In 2016, the Māori Language Act was enacted to express the Crown’s commitment ‘to work in partnership with iwi and Māori to continue to actively protect and promote this taonga (treasure), the Māori language for future generations’. On September 14 2020, more than a million New Zealanders signed up to participate in Māori language activities at the same time to commemorate the day when a group of Māori presented a petition to parliament calling for te reo Māori to be taught in schools. In 2020, the number of teenagers studying te reo Māori at secondary school passed 30,000 for the first time.

Key takeaways

The ASA’s decision to uphold the complaint against the Rangiora advertisement should be understood in the broader context of the revitalisation of the Māori language in New Zealand. It will be in the best interests of businesses operating in New Zealand to take heed of this ASA decision and to treat te reo Māori respectfully in media and advertising – which includes making sure words are pronounced correctly.

This article was first published by Managing IPKathleen Henning is Managing IP’s international correspondent for New Zealand.