Asian New Zealanders and the media: new study

Asian participation and visibility in the New Zealand media industry is the focus of an investigation by Associate Professors Sarina Pearson and Shuchi Kothari from the Faculty of Arts.

NZ On Air’s 2021 annual Diversity Report found consistent under-representation of pan Asian creatives in major roles, and while Asian New Zealanders comprise 15 percent of Aotearoa’s population, they hold disproportionately fewer key creative positions.

Asian New Zealanders are also one of the fastest-growing demographics, with Stats NZ projecting a quarter of the population could be Asian in 20 years, yet you wouldn’t get that impression from the media produced here, say Sarina Pearson and Shuchi Kothari.

The associate professors in the University of Auckland's Faculty of Arts decided to address this absence in 2019 after receiving a Marsden Fund Standard Grant.

Since then they've spoken to a range people in the New Zealand media industry, including creatives and those involved in policy and funding. They also plan to talk to broadcasters and platforms as part of their data collection process. 

As both media practitioners and academics, they believe they're well placed to do this work.

“One side of us comes from being Asian practitioners and the other is, of course, as academics – we are always interested in why a certain phenomenon exists and why it persists,” says Dr Kothari.

For more than a decade, the pair have worked to ensure the  often difficult experience they had as Asian media practitioners doesn’t continue for others.

One side of us comes from being Asian practitioners and the other is, of course, as academics – we are always interested in why a certain phenomenon exists and why it persists. 

Associate Professor Shuchi Kothari Media and Screen, Faculty of Arts

“We had struggled so much in getting our projects up and going that we thought, if we had the opportunity, we would become producers for others who wanted to tell stories that were different," they say.

Their research aims to fill the gap in existing scholarship that tends to imagine immigrant narratives and media representation around the idea of a single individual author or creator.

They have problems with this approach and want to think more broadly about those who might have a story to tell, but for various reasons don’t get the opportunity. Their focus is on the culture of production and the institutional frameworks that shape the media landscape.

“To make meaningful change, you need to understand the constraints and the incentives,” says Dr Pearson. “We strongly believe there is a connection between the people who are in the industries and the work we get to see.”

However, they realise correcting the imbalance of Asian representation in New Zealand media is not simple. Findings from overseas suggest that diversifying the workplace doesn’t always lead to diversity everywhere.

“It won’t change outcomes if the diverse person is the token hire,” says Dr Kothari. “You have to break the majoritarianism. If you want diversity in outcome, the structure of power-sharing has to be more inclusive.”

While their research is not yet complete, they say one thing seems clear: cultural and systemic barriers exist for Asian New Zealanders wanting to get into the media industry.

Revealing these barriers is a step in the right direction, but more is needed to produce diversity in outcome, they believe.

"With growing numbers of young Asians entering the New Zealand media industry, the dial is shifting. However,  these changes need to be embedded in the policies of media organisations to ensure they have a permanent impact."

Media contact

Julianne Evans | Media adviser
 027 562 5868