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Last year I was part of a panel for Leadership New Zealand tasked with speaking to this post's title. No pressure. By the time Dr Wayne Hope (AUT University), Qiujing Wong (Borderless), Rewi Spraggon and myself had traversed it, it was obvious how broad the topic was.

I began by sharing this media release I wrote in 2005 in response to the then National Party's appointment of Wayne Mapp as "Political Correctness Eradicator". Aside from the stupidity of the role, I pointed out that ten years on, the token gestures paid to diversity in the arts, media and cultural spheres haven't really increased.

Examples are:
  • Māori Language Week, during which weather presenters use Māori for place names, days of the week and times of the day. Why not make this standard practice?
  • John Key recently dismissed the concept of a Māori Language Month because "people would get bored".
  • Kanoa Lloyd, 3News' weather presenter, got letters of complaint for using too much Māori in her forecasts.
  • Festivals such as Matariki and Diwali are celebrated but, overall, they are side shows where people step out of their comfort zones for a few hours or days, only to nip back into the safety of mainstream culture. The diversity and meaning of these and other cultural events are hardly woven into the fabric of our society.

I also spoke of the research about on-screen disability and diversity we conducted and have since had published in the Journal of Popular Television. Our findings showed the public was ready for more diversity but broadcasters, advertisers and industry representatives weren't courageous enough to do what it would take to effect change.

Big blob of white middle-class culture

Our thinking and national identity is pretty much defined by a big blob of white middle-class culture surrounded by a few odd bits.

I finished on a completely different note — something that I've recently become quite passionate about. How come some artists and performers are funded by Creative New Zealand, while others are relegated to job seekers at Work and Income and told to find a real job? Who decides whether your work is "good enough" to be funded and brand-aligned with Creative NZ, or not good enough so you need to make a living doing something "better"?

These are challenging leadership questions and courageous conversations need convening around them.

Philip Patston is recognised in New Zealand and overseas as a social and creative entrepreneur. You can read more about him here.

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