December 10, 2023

Corrections’ recruitment ads give ‘harmful’ stereotypes of Māori, Pasifika – watchdog

A screenshot from one of the ads.

A watchdog has upheld complaints about two television ads for the Department of Corrections because the advertisements are “likely to be offensive and harmful”.

The first recruitment ad for Corrections included a young Māori boy speaking to the camera about how he “already knew dad went to prison”. The boy, referring to a Corrections officer, goes on to say it was “all thanks to him that dad’s got a good job now and so, yeah, [I] might become a Corrections officer one day too”.

A second complained-about ad showed ‘Mike’, a Pākehā Corrections officer and ‘John’, a Māori ex-prisoner. The ad depicts a flashback of John being an aggressive inmate, before showing him rehabilitated.

The ad then shows the pair bumping into each other years later, with both men explaining to John’s child how they “worked together” – with Mike saying: “Your dad’s a good man, you’re a lucky kid.”

But complainants who approached the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said they were concerned the ads were negatively stereotyping Māori and Pasifika.

One complainant alleged one of the ads ignored “the system failure which leads to the over-incarceration of Māori”, claiming Corrections didn’t meet its obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi.

In its decisions, the ASA’s complaints board agreed the advertisements “perpetuated a negative stereotype”.

“The board said this was likely to be offensive and harmful to some viewers,” said one of the decisions.

“The complaints board did not consider the advertisement had been prepared with a due sense of social responsibility. The board acknowledged the challenging role the Department of Corrections and Corrections Officers fulfilled in society but said this particular advertisement perpetuated a negative stereotype.”

Topia Rameka, deputy chief executive Māori at Corrections, told Newshub in a statement they are always open to feedback and, alongside their recruitment marketing provider Stanley St, will be taking the ASA’s findings on board when developing future recruitment material.

“We recognise that the topic of criminal justice can be difficult and challenging. In the past, we had received feedback that our previous recruitment material did not reflect the realities of working in a custodial environment,” Rameka said.

“For this current recruitment campaign, we resolved to present a more realistic portrayal of Corrections’ roles and environments, including the physical safety and security challenges that Corrections staff are often confronted with. We also wanted to present the positive side of the role, including the ability to help people turn their lives around, which we know our staff do on the daily.”

To do this, they paid special attention to casting, scripting, and testing throughout production. Care was taken with casting for the ads to make sure they realistically portrayed the diversity and demographics of Corrections’ workforce, Rameka said. He noted the various ads throughout the campaign used male and female actors of Māori, Pākehā, Pasifika, and Indian ethnicity, including those playing staff.

Rameka said casting was undertaken by Stanley St under the guidance of their kaiwhakatere – cultural creative director. Filming was also under the direction of a Māori director and a range of internal staff were consulted to consider differing ways the advertisement could be interpreted. The concept of the advertisement was also shared with an external group.

“As has been widely reported, we have been facing staffing shortages across many of our prisons. This was one of a several advertisements produced to attract new recruits to Corrections,” Rameka said.

“As a result of the recruitment campaign, we have seen a strong increase in the number of job applications received for new Corrections officers, with over 3100 applications received since October 2022. Since the beginning of 2023 we have had 166 people recruited into frontline roles, with many more in the recruitment pipeline.

“We also saw a change in perceptions, with 60 percent of people spoken to saying the advertisements made them think more positively about the job of a Corrections officer, with the greatest impact being amongst Māori and Pasifika respondents and respondents aged 18-24.”

He added Corrections will continue to look at how they can bring the public closer to their work so they can understand the realities of life within a prison environment and the type of work staff do on a daily basis.

Complaints about both ads were upheld and finished airing in February, which is when it was scheduled to end.

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