Sparks still fly over controversial series Jonah from Tonga

By Kawe Kōrero Reporters

Opinion remains divided over Māori Television’s decision to pull Australian comedian Chris Lilley’s show “Jonah from Tonga”. 

In a panel interview with Kawe Korero Will ‘Ilolahia, a spokesperson for the Tongan community, disagreed with the call to pull the series.

A statement issued at the weekend by the broadcaster outlined the decision was made once the full board of Māori Television became aware of the screening of the programme last Thursday.

‘Ilolahia says he was approached by Māori Television to consult with the Tongan community prior to airing “Jonah from Tonga” and he said the overall reaction from those he spoke with was positive.

“What the community told me is basically what’s wrong with having a laugh, it’s like a tonic you know, more laughter, laughing at each other and most people who have seen the shows before and I’m saying Tongan people have said that they’re actually laughing at Chris for trying to be a Tongan.”

However, Tongan Fullbright Scholar Trish Tupou had a very different take on the issue and questioned the consultation process ‘Ilolahia referred to.

Tupou said, “As an elected member of the Tongan community I'm not really sure where that consultation took place because I mean I wasn’t consulted a lot of others I know weren’t consulted.”

Tupou outlined her objection to Māori Television’s decision to screen the show in the first place.

She said, “my humour is inherently Tongan. And I understand that Tongans love to mock, I love to mock my family, my friends, everybody that I know. The difference is, is that it is a Tongan mocking a Tongan.' The reality is, it is a white Australian in brown face make-up and we cannot forget that."

The Minister of Pacific Affairs raised the issue in an interview about the broadcaster’s decision to air the show last week, but ‘Ilolahia says politicians and the board should have no involvement in these decisions.

“What I’m concerned about though is this is an election year and what’s happening here is actually contrary to the Māori Television Act because you now have the board coming in and stepping in.”

Māori television has replaced the show Jonah from Tonga with Te Taumata Kapa Haka and in the statement issued at the weekend it was outlined no further comment would be provided.