Emerging research explores Asian New Zealand media representation

Associate Professors Sarina Pearson and Shuchi Kothari are investigating Asian Kiwi participation and visibility in the New Zealand media industry.

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

Asian New Zealanders are one of the fastest-growing demographics, with Stats NZ projecting a quarter of the population could be Asian in twenty years. Yet you wouldn’t necessarily get that impression from the media produced here.

Dr Pearson and Dr Kothari began their research back in 2019 after receiving a Marsden Fund Standard Grant.

In that time, they have spoken to a range people in the New Zealand media industry, including creatives and those involved in policy and funding. They also plan to reach out to broadcasters and platforms as part of their data collection process. 

As media practitioners and academics, Dr Pearson and Dr Kothari have a unique vantage point.

“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 experience they had as Asian media practitioners doesn’t persist 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. 

Dr Kothari Associate Professor, Media and Communication

“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.”

Dr Pearson and Dr Kothari’s research seeks to fill the gap in existing scholarship that tends to conceptualise immigrant narratives and media representation around the idea of a single individual author or creator.

Their research problematises this approach and thinks more broadly of those who might have a story to tell, but for various reasons don’t get the opportunity. Their focus is on cultures 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 that we get to see.”

However, 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, 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.

With growing numbers of young Asians entering the New Zealand media industry, Associate Professors Kothari and Pearson believe that the dial is shifting. However, they also feel these changes need to be embedded in the policies of media organisations to ensure they have a permanent impact. This is where their research will be most relevant.

Media contact

Julianne Evans | Media adviser
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 027 562 5868
E: julianne.evans@auckland.ac.nz