Hard News by Russell Brown


Whakamomori: Raw, open and honest

This week's Media Take looks at Target Zero, the documentary that follows Mike King as he travels around the country talking to young people about depression and suicide. The documentary has been something of a phenomenon for Maori Television since it screened two weeks ago, with a flood of on-demand views both within and outside New Zealand.

We changed our usual format for the discussion. For obvious reasons, there's no merry banter between Toi Iti and I at the top of the show and we decided in advance to let the discussion with Mike and his friend and sometime radio partner, psychologist Malcolm Falconer, run beyond the seven minutes we had scheduled for the broadcast show.

After we wrapped the discussion, I commented to Toi that I had no idea how long we'd talked for. It turned out to be more than 17 minutes, whch is a long time in television.

The most remarkable parts of Target Zero are those where young people speak on their own account. What they say is raw, open and honest – sometimes wrenchingly so. Why did they open up like that? Probably because they were talking to an adult who had already revealed himself as flawed. They weren't used to hearing a man talking about being vulnerable and they responded to it.

Those kids really exposed themselves, and I understand why there is some strong official resistance to what Mike is doing. The view has long been that talking about suicide to young people is risky, that it normalises suicide as a behaviour. There will be further concern that Mike's campaign is so tightly tied to him as a person.

But we've spent a long time not talking about suicide and the rate is not falling. In particular, the suicide rate among young Maori men is twice that of the general population. It's hard to hear these kids and not feel that it's good they feel able to share their feelings.

I want to express my respect for Toi. When he admitted in the discussion that he found this korero difficult, he was expressing the very vulnerability that goes unacknowledged among men and, on the evidence of the documentary, Maori men in particular. It really wasn't your average current affairs chat.

Twenty or 30 years ago, suicide took more of my friends than any other cause of death. There may be another such period as I grow older again. It seems important to talk about it. 

You can watch the full discussion on-demand here.

Target Zero is here on-demand.

And the show as broadcast is here and includes a chat with Maori Television head of content Mike Rehu and my report on the Apple Music flap. Props to our editor Paul Oremland for doing such a good job of bringing down the discussion with Mike and Malcolm to seven broadcast minutes.

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