FYI, the Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand; the Maori Television channel, although focused on broadcasting material about Maori life and/or in the Maori language, also shows documentaries and films about other indigenous peoples.
Maori TV strikes a blow for democracy
What are you doing at 8:30pm on September 1? Write this down, because that night you need to turn on Maori Television.
You should tune in to a film you probably never would have noticed, The 10 Conditions of Love. Why? Because the Chinese Government doesn't want you to - and they have no business sticking their hand into New Zealand living rooms.
Nobody else took much notice of this documentary on exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer either - that is, until the Chinese government disastrously overstepped its borders by putting its elephantine foot into Melbourne's film festival. Suddenly, the world press was at their door.
'A perfect case study of what counterproductive diplomacy truly looks like'
Shortly after the Melbourne Film Festival innocently published their guide listing the documentary, their website was hacked with an onslaught of disruptions and protests, eventually shutting it down. Vile emails arrived at their offices.
Like the Tibetans, the mostly Muslim Uighurs have been problematic for the Chinese Government.
In last month's ethnic violence, 197 people were killed, over 1600 injured. The last thing the Chinese Government wants to see is twice Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Kadeer's message spread around the world in art movie houses.
The Chinese Consul rang festival director Richard Moore, and demanded he withdraw the film. Moore refused. In fact, he added an additional screening to the already sold-out showings.
The Chinese ambassador then asked the Australian Foreign Minister to deny Ms Kadeer a visa for the festival, arguing that she is a terrorist. After making inquiries, the Foreign Minister refused him too, and the visa was granted.
Ms Kadeer flew in from the US, where she is exiled.
Meanwhile, Chinese hackers mounted a "denial of service" attack on the Film Festival website, holding the remaining seats to new screenings in their online "shopping cart", effectively stalling their sale by not paying for them.
Festival staff had to take the site down and resorted to asking patrons to book in person after phone lines were also jammed.
The festival moved the premiere to the Melbourne Town Hall where the 1500-seat venue also sold out.
The Chinese then turned their sights on city officials.
The film's producer, John Lewis said, "The Chinese went to the Lord Mayor of Melbourne and told him if he didn't stop the Town Hall screening, they would undo Melbourne's 'sister city' relationship with Tianjin."
Eventually, seven other Chinese films suddenly dropped out of the festival.
In their grandest goof by far, Chinese officials finally tried to persuade the Australian National Press Club to cancel Ms Kadeer's appearance this week, something akin to public relations suicide for those who've even sniffed an Aussie journo.
Never get between a journo and their free lunch. Ms Kadeer appeared there to cheers when she said that the Chinese Government doesn't seem to understand that Australia is not a province of China.
'This public relations disaster that the Chinese have created for themselves'
Neither is New Zealand, where just this week Maori Television have already had a visit from Chinese officials, asking them not to air the film and offering one of their own. Maori Television offered to air the Chinese Government's views on their current affairs programme. They declined.
Producer John Lewis offered Maori Television advice: "They must not buckle. This public relations disaster that the Chinese have created for themselves, by this heavy-handed, ham-fisted bullying of every Australian institution that you can think of - from a film festival, to the city council of a major city, to the National Press Club- has rebounded on them terribly, and nobody, nobody has taken any notice of them."
"The same thing will apply to New Zealand.
"They will treat New Zealand as if it's a province of China and because of the free trade agreement and the economic relationship, they think that New Zealand has got to do as they're told - and you don't."
Film festivals far and wide are now requesting what would have been a sleepy, obscure little film, making this a perfect case study of what counterproductive diplomacy truly looks like. Thanks to the Chinese Government's efforts, whether this film is good or not, it has suddenly become secondary to a bigger story.
We democracies love our staple diet of free expression, plain-wrapped or just plain ugly and contentious.
Respectfully, keep your mitts away from what feeds us.
The way things work in this country, this film could be expounding the charm of Al Qaeda or the beauties of wearing Labradoodle-skin coats. It's up to us to decide once we've been given the unrestrained opportunity to digest it.
Here's hoping the Chinese have learned how to walk more softly in someone else's democracy when the film lands on our airwaves.
In lovely Aussie understatement, the chief executive of the Australian National Press Club, Morris Reilly, concluded dryly, "I'm a bit bemused by it all. It hasn't quite worked for them really." Stay tuned.
Additional source: a story on the Maori TV website, confirming that they intend to go ahead & broadcast the film.
Maori TV is funded by the NZ government, but as far as I know they have editorial independence. Things could get very ugly if political and economic interests get brought into this, given the importance of China as a trading partner.
In any case, China's campaign is having the opposite effect to what was intended: my parents watched Maori TV's interview with Rebiya Kadeer last night, and we all plan to watch the film when it airs!