Asia Downunder began on TV One in 1994 under the title Asia Dynamic; it was renamed in 1999 and screened until 2011. The weekly magazine programme for and about Asian New Zealanders covered a range of stories from news and issues to profiles, arts, sport, business and travel.
Asia Downunder (ADU) was produced by Asia Vision, a company owned by original presenter Melissa Lee and her business partner Robin Kingsley-Smith. Kingsley-Smith was hands-on in the making of the programme for its first few years. Lee went on to head up the production team.
Around 40 episodes per year of ADU were produced. About 35 episodes were in a magazine format, along with a handful of half-hour specials, usually documentaries. Henna On My Hands was an example of an ADU documentary that explored an issue in depth — in this case an Indian arranged marriage; the episode won a Japan Prize for Educational Media in 1998.
As a well-established programme with extensive networks within the New Zealand Asian community, ADU was able to gain access to stories that may not otherwise have aired. The moving profile of young actress Yvonne Tan, filmed as she was dying of a brain tumour was an example of this. ADU also broke stories that were picked up by major news outlets, such as a story about the availability of abortion pills on the internet amongst young Asian women which hit the headlines in 2004.
In 2008 ADU began to film stories from Asian countries on a regular basis. 'Street Talk' was a segment added in later years, where people on the street were given an opportunity to air their views on a particular topic; these ranged from whether boy racers should be banned, to "how safe are Asian students in New Zealand?"
Like many of New Zealand television's special interest programmes, Asia Downunder was a valuable training ground. Many young reporter/directors of Asian descent got a start on ADU. It also attracted the talents of more experienced Asian media professionals. The ADU roll call included the likes of Lynette Forday, Bernadine Lim, Kim Webby, Solina Song, Geeling Ng, and many others.
When the programme began, New Zealand's Asian population numbered around 100,000; by 2006 it was 355,000 and growing. One prediction put it that by 2021 the Asian population would number 14 per cent of the total population.
Presenter Melissa Lee was with ADU since the beginning and she has become an icon in New Zealand's Asian community. In 2008 she entered Parliament as New Zealand's first Korean-born MP, with a placing on the National Party list. Reporter/director Bharat Jamnadas was also with the programme for its duration. He often fronted the weekly cooking segment, which was one of the programme's most popular features.
ADU screened in a weekly Sunday morning timeslot on TV One. Towards the end of its run, the series was picked up by regional channels, some of whom screened it in primetime. In September 2008, Asia Downunder was introduced to television viewers in Queensland, Australia.
- Annie Murray has commissioned children's and special interest programmes for TVNZ, and been Head of External Programming at Māori Television. In 2014 she became Senior Commissioner at Sky and Prime TV, focussing mainly on local content.