RNZ Asia : Talking to Asian Kiwis

RNZ's Asia unit is up and running as part of the public broadcaster's news division. We talk to editor Elliott Samuels on how the new service will speak to NZ audiences. 

The idea that Asian diaspora in New Zealand were drifting under the mainstream media radar has been a topic of discussion for at least the last decade. Who are these people.?, how do you connect with them? , what do they want anyway, and how do we deliver it ?

It’s an issue that has been looked at in some detail by the Asia New Zealand Foundation, New Zealand on Air, and others.

How do we address the issue of a group of NZ taxpayers who don’t see themselves being reflected in the publicly-funded broadcasting system, ? What is to be done?

The possibility that RNZ could reach out to these communities with their own specific content has been the topic of discussion inside the public broadcaster for some time, and scoping reports into how and where and why have been in the past duly noted, but never quite acted upon.

The growth and development of Radio New Zealand International, now RNZ Pacific, has been an extremely successful strategy, reaching out across the Pacific to listeners wanting news and entertainment. The service goes from strength the strength and features some of the strongest content produced by RNZ.  

But addressing Asian audiences inside Aotearoa has been a long-standing issue for RNZ, whose charter demands : "The public radio company fosters a sense of national identity by contributing to tolerance and understanding, reflecting and promoting ethnic, cultural, and artistic diversity and expression."

After yet another round of debate, and some supporting public research by NZOA RNZ has this year dipped its toe in the water, establishing a news service for Chinese and Indian diaspora members. Not reporting on Asia, but reporting on Asians, in Aotearoa.

NZ On Air Head of Journalism, Raewyn Rasch says by providing the first year of funding, NZOA's Public Journalism Fund is seeding the unit, with progressing the project through to subsequent years. .

Rasch says RNZ’s content sharing policy – where content is made available multiple media partners – will ensure the ethnic media sector is supported by the Unit providing additional content.

RNZ Asia is up and running with the minimum of fuss, pulling together the experiences and concerns of the Chinese and Indian populations in New Zealand, giving them a voice, and bringing their experience to the wider New Zealand public.

RNZ Asia’s Managing Editor is Elliott Samuels, fresh from an editorial position at the Japan Times, and overseeing a new-ish crew at RNZ Asia.

He had time for a few questions as the service hit the airwaves:

 Why is RNZ doing this?

RNZ Asia is a new service that seeks to report on issues that are relevant to growing Asian communities of New Zealand. Asian New Zealanders made up 15 percent of the country’s population in the 2018 census, with Chinese and Indian New Zealanders – the two largest groups – comprising about 250,000 people each. As per the objectives enshrined in the RNZ Charter, we believe it is critically important to supply news to the many diverse communities that exist in New Zealand.

What sort of content are you going to be covering?

The unit will produce a variety of stories for and about the Chinese and Indian communities, celebrating their successes just as much as highlighting their struggles. The election in October is obviously going to be a primary area of focus over the next few months, but we ultimately hope to cover a wide range of news and current affairs. The Indian section will feature original stories in English, while the Chinese section has a mixture of original and translated RNZ stories of interest to the Chinese community in simplified Chinese, as well as English versions of our original stories in Chinese we feel are of wider interest to our audience.


How does the translation process work? Will you be moving to other languages in due course?

The translation process will be put through the same robust editorial processes as all editorial content produced by RNZ, undergoing multiple layers of editing and cross-checking to ensure a high degree of accuracy. RNZ is starting with the simplified Chinese script simply because it will enable us to reach more people. We will later examine whether it is feasible and useful to publish content in traditional Chinese script as well.

What’s the structure? .. how many staff etc, and what’s the cost?

The new sections are a result of a two-year collaboration with NZ On Air. The unit, which includes a mix of seven reporters, translators, editors and multimedia journalists, is being funded for the first year through the Public Interest Journalism Fund. The second year will be funded internally by RNZ, with a right of renewal after that.

The first year of a new unit will be funded to the tune of $1,1 million dollars. 

 Can the Indian and Chinese communities contribute in any way?

The unit is certainly open to receiving leads on stories from the community as well as pitches from freelance journalists, which will be subject to the same robust editorial processes as other contributions. Such leads and pitches can be emailed to [email protected] (for the Chinese team) and [email protected] (for the Indian team).


Do you expect to develop a radio component in due course … like RNZ Pacific for example?

We certainly envisage journalists on the team being part of wider RNZ news coverage, whether that be appearing on radio, speaking on podcasts or possibly even presenting. We’d ultimately love to mainstream their contributions across the board.

How do you see the future for RNZ Asia playing out ?

The unit’s long-term success will ultimately be determined by creating a pipeline of young journalists from the Chinese and Indian communities being attracted to the industry through pathways such as scholarships and internships. Our attention will turn to this final piece of the puzzle shortly.


  • Asia Media Centre