Aussie broadcasters’ insulting fake Pacific language

An Australian interpretative language service for migrants to the country has profusely apologised for its unintended offence at relaying Covid-19 information insensitively to Pacific diaspora.

A lack of broadcasters capable of speaking one of Samoan, Tongan or any other of the 36 Polynesian languages and dialects forced The National Ethnic and Multiracial Broadcasters’ Council (NEMBC) to fabricate a Pacific Islander English language.

The faux pas had caused Victorian community engagement Pasifika advisor Rita Seumanutafa to take to Twitter to announce her cultural outrage on behalf of Pacific people in Australia.

“I’d like to know why the NEMBC thought it was a good idea to bypass vaccine info audio clips in priority Pasefika languages, and instead give our community a ‘Pacific Islander English’ audio clip?” Ms Seumanutafa wrote.

“The issue for my community is not accent – it’s language.”

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The voiceover was conducted in a quintessential accent of a recent migrant from the Pacific islands.

It was considered “embarrassing” and “insulting”.

“Just in case I wasn’t clear in my last tweet: ‘Pacific Islander English’ is NOT a language,” 92 minutes later she had retweeted, “@nembc_official take note.”

National Ethnic and Multiracial Broadcasters’ Council
Some of the National Ethnic and Multiracial Broadcasters’ Council members that are not represented by Pacific communities. Picture: National Ethnic and Multiracial Broadcasters’ Council.

Council’s chief executive Russell Anderson says he felt an obligation to say sorry and to “double his efforts” to improve the service for the Australian Pacific community.

“It is not ideal, and I am acutely aware of it,” Mr Anderson said.

“I am trying to do whatever I can to get Samoan up first soon.

“I do keep on asking people for help.”

The service that only began in Melbourne in May 2021 tends to rely on financial grants, donations and support from governments.

It started out with just seven of the more common languages of the world spoken in Australia, but none from the Pacific region.

Mr Anderson has still defended the use of English for Pacific listeners, stating a strong competency in the language cemented his decision to have the explainer spoken in a Polynesian accent.

“We always wanted to do something with the Pacific Islander groups, but we just couldn’t afford all of Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islander’s different languages,” he said.

“So, we got someone Māori, who can produce it in English, but I was always a bit worried about it.

“It took off really well though and all the other Pacific Islander groups have (other) programs played in it and they liked it.

“Really, it was the most popular out of all the languages – it got played the most.”

The council is said to advocate to maintain and help connect people with their ancestry, language and culture, be a voice for multiculturalism in Australia, to counter racism in Australian society, to contribute to media diversity in Australia and to also operate with integrity and in a manner that’s “ethical, professional, responsive and self-reliant”.

Mr Anderson claimed that on Friday and Saturday, a training workshop with several Pacific language residents was run to solve the problem as soon as possible.

“From there, I hope we can get Samoan language, at least, and some Tongan with explainers,” he said.

“It has been a bit unusual as we have been able to get a lot of other language groups, but (Pacific languages) have been quite difficult to get onto.

“We get some people who want to do it, but this is like producing a news story and we need them to be able to broadcast it well and do it from home.

“You don’t have time to go into a studio and set it up because it needs to be done on a daily basis.”

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