In 1981, TVNZ launched News Review – a 15 minute programme (later extended to half-an-hour). News Review was a summary of major national and international news of the week for all New Zealanders. This programme was produced in Christchurch, and was captioned.

  • TV/Media

Working towards NZSL on News Review

An episode of News Review in 1983.

New Zealand Herald (date unknown). As mentioned, “Mrs Ava Agnew (left) and Mrs Susan Thomas, both of Christchurch, who will co-host Television New Zealand’s news for the deaf programme. They will interpret in sign language the news read by Ms Madeline David, the host of News Review. The programme screens on Television One on Sundays at 5.30pm.”

Jo Smith was a liaison between the TVNZ producers and the NZAD Council (the Deaf Association Board). Several people wanted a Total Communication interpreter to be used alongside the newsreader because many Deaf people could not understand the captions on the programme, but this did not happen.

The News Review crew made a pilot programme using two Deaf presenters alongside the hearing presenters in 1982 with Ava Agnew and Paul Buzzard. Kay Drew, a teacher of the deaf, interpreted, and taught the cricketer Sir Richard Hadlee how to sign his name! Peter Downie and Royce Flynn were interviewed on how they became basketball referees. But TVNZ bosses did not like it and the pilot did not screen. (SignDNA is investigating in case a copy still exists).

Initially there was little interest in News Review, not only because it aired news that was several days old, but also Deaf viewers felt that the captions were too hard to follow. At first, the programme was fully captioned verbatim (every spoken word was captioned), however later captioning was changed to used more plain English words to make it easier for Deaf people with low English literacy skills to read. With the communication modes of the Deaf community so varied, it seemed difficult to please everyone, however adding signing to the screen in addition to captions became a viable solution. The NZAD asked for two people on screen, one speaking English and one signing, and this request was finally granted in 1987, and two Deaf presenters joined the programme.

Memories of the Deaf presenters

Susan Thomas prepping before appearing on News Review.

June 25, 1990. News Review’s Susan Thomas, Ava Buzzard with Megan Mansfield (interpreter).

The News Review team: Megan Mansfield, Madeline David, Tony Mooar, Susan Thomas and Ava Agnew.

Ava and Susan remember preparing for the programme with Megan Mansfield one of the first NZSL interpreters. Megan translated the English script into NZSL and they watched her. Ava and Susan then signed the script again adding signs and concepts that deaf people could understand.

Ava remembers when the news were read live with a hearing newsreader Allison Jones. Both deaf and hearing presenter had to watch each other to make sure they matched.

Ava remembers that many deaf did not have good English skills and were missing out on learning from the news. The presenters were giving deaf people access to information.

Ava and Susan remember many hearing people coming up to them in the street and saying that they wanted to learn sign language. NZSL was being expanded in a way it never had been before.

Captioning vs NZSL

Article, ‘Deaf upset at TV show threat’. Date unknown.

NZ on Air commissioned a survey in 1990 with the help of Tony Mooar who held meetings with Deaf people in 15 centres. Focus was on how to allocate $1,000,000 of funding on TV services for Deaf people. In reality most of the money was for the existing teletext service. Deaf people voted for more captioning as well as for signed news. However it was not realised that voting for more captions as a first choice meant the end of sign language on television. There was not enough funding for both choices.

News Review stopped broadcasting in February 1991. To date, there has not been a similar programme using Deaf presenters or NZSL in full.