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Despite foreign-owned press, Miss New Zealand Samantha Powell’s well on her way


July 12, 2008/3.34

Samantha Powell’s “controversial” pose at Miss Universe

I knew it was too good to be true: a Miss New Zealand competition that can pass without a foreign-owned newspaper getting on her case.
   This time, it’s our Irish friends at The New Zealand Herald who have decided to put a bit of stress Sam’s way, for the usual tall-poppy agenda. I expected better as the Herald’s business journos, for example, are usually of a high standard.
   There are two competitions that produce a national beauty queen: Miss Universe New Zealand and Miss World New Zealand. This magazine is a sponsor of the former.
   The Herald article highlights Miss World New Zealand’s winner criticizing Miss Universe New Zealand over her performance of a haka—and the pukana which only men are meant to perform.
   Anyone who knows Sam will know that this was performed with a bit of naïveté and with good intentions, by someone proud of her country.
   All New Zealanders should be proud to propagate Māori culture as the alternative would be to ignore it and pretend we are mere facsimile of Great Britain, as many Kiwis did 50 years ago.
   And while no one in the pageant expected her to do the haka, I bear her no ill will.
   On culture itself, it is right for some to be upset if elements are being wrongly performed, but this does not make Māoridom unique. I’ve seen enough lion dances performed badly but choose to bite my tongue. It’s my choice. Māori are the same on this aspect: some will see Sam’s haka as a faux pas and others will see the good intention behind it. Again the story hints at some great chasm that one haka caused over in Vietnam. I doubt it.
   It is right we are talking about this issue—I wish it had been reported more fairly.
   I know of no Māori who, while rightly guarding against improper use of their culture, would deny a chance for it to be promoted or be rendered so “untouchable” to those who came later to Aotearoa. In fact, one kaumatua I spoke to says it is our duty, regardless of our ethnic origins, to be promoting Māori culture when we are abroad.
   Sometimes, because we have not been immersed in the culture, we err. It is to be expected. And, when the one who errs is not of our own race, we forgive and we educate, but we do not criticize.
   I also question whether Miss World New Zealand Kahurangi Taylor would have been so critical of Samantha Powell because launching into a fellow beauty queen would tarnish her own chances at her international competition. I have a feeling she was probably more diplomatic than the article made her out to be.
   The two pageants have always had a respectful co-existence, not what I see reported in the Herald, which actually do not help Miss Taylor’s own position.
   The international Miss World competition, as with the Miss Universe competition, do not have judges and administrators who are well versed in New Zealand’s cultural issues and one risks being painted as intolerant—even if one’s own position is right.
   The article paints a negative light and says pageant director Val Lott hung up the phone rather than comment to the newspaper. This, I understand, did not happen.
   Fact: the journalist hung up on Val after she refused to give the telephone number for Suzanne Tamaki, the costume designer. Fair enough: Val may well have learned of Suzanne’s number privately. This looks like a poor attempt at getting back at Val.
   I believe Val did the right thing given that even this matter of who hung up on whom is questionable.
   I would have not bothered with answering the Herald if I knew my comments would be taken out of context, and many New Zealand broadsheets have been guilty of doing that in their quest to move into tabloid journalism.
   Val’s own husband has Māori blood and to suggest that anyone in the pageant is insensitive to the Māori culture is far-fetched.
   In fact, the same pageant recently connected with a magazine promoting Māori culture so they could highlight Rhonda Grant, the second runner-up who is fluent in te reo. It is important to promote culture in a cultural competition.
   And if Val did say people who took a great interest in the story are ‘empty-headed,’ then that is not an unfair opinion.
   Two words were quoted—but we simply don’t know the context.
   Val means that the story is trivial and we should treat it as such, rather than a matter at the centre of some national crisis, as the newspaper tends to believe.
   But exaggerating a crisis is an easy way to get a story past a sub-editor or editor—or, the journalist reported everything accurately and someone higher up decided to have a bit of fun for commercial reasons, in the quest for ‘empty-headed’ readers.
   It’s yet another reason to question our fourth estate: if the mainstream media cannot get their facts right on a beauty pageant, can we really trust them to report greater issues?
   And if it were about trying to harm Sam’s chances (the timing, days before the telecast, is suspicious), then the story is ineffective: the final 15 were selected days ago. After all, the pukana photograph has been around for nearly a month and was even run by the Fairfax newspapers then—with no complaints.
   Sam, having the strength of character that made her Miss New Zealand, is still going to wow the judges during the telecast.

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beauty / culture / journalism / Lucire / media / New Zealand / publishing / society
Filed by Jack Yan

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