The broadcasting watchdog has ruled controversial comments about racism and representation by TV host Mike Hosking did not breach standards.
On TV1’s Seven Sharp show last Wednesday Mike Hosking celebrated the news that the Lonely Planet has picked Taranaki as a top ten place to visit.
"It's golden days for tourism here," he said in his nightly editorial slot.
But it was not a golden day for journalism when Hosking editorialised about Taranaki affairs on the programme back in May.
New Plymouth mayor Andrew Judd had decided to quit as a result of abuse he copped locally for proposing a Māori ward on the local council.
“I'd never personally attack him obviously but he's completely out of touch with middle New Zealand," Hosking told his viewers.
"Any Māori that wants to stand for a council is more than welcome to do so and you can sell your message. And if you're good enough you'll get voted on. Simple as that," he said.
Hosking’s presumption that “middle New Zealand” agreed with him on that also irritated many people, including colleagues at TVNZ.
"Like most Māori I have lived with casual and often deliberate racism my entire life. When we use a powerful prime time platform to dismiss and ignore racism in our community, in my view, that’s unacceptable," said fellow TVNZ presenter Miriama Kamo, going public on the TV1 show Marae.
Some people complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, including a former member of the authority - University of Canterbury politics professor Bronwyn Hayward.
Just one opinion?
She said Hosking had set so-called “Middle New Zealand“ against Māori and New Zealanders concerned about representation of minorities.
The mayor’s case was simply dismissed by Hosking," Professor Hayward wrote.
"This editorial commentary and the effect of two Pākehā anchor people sitting in a studio affirming each other through a down-home conversation that is a mixture of both inaccuracy and racism ... lacks balance because the platform of trusted anchors means that this editorial sets the tone for how a viewer is to interpret and understand what went before."
This week the Broadcasting Standards Authority said it had not upheld her complaints nor those of other complainants.
Stuff.co.nz rushed out a story headlined: "Hosking's controversial Maori comments cleared by BSA" - and nzherald.co.nz said the complaints had been “rejected” by the Authority.
But not quite.
The authority said presenters of a popular prime time television current affairs programme such as Seven Sharp are in an "influential position".
“They have the capacity to both inform and shape public debate and opinion about important issues. The two presenters’ comments - including Mr Hosking’s view - were dismissive of a valid issue in New Zealand which deserves meaningful discussion,” the BSA said.
The BSA pointed to "litmus test” research last year which found people were so accustomed to Hosking’s on-air editorialising most people would immediately recognise it as mere opinion.
“Anyone thinking that’s a fact would either be on drugs - or doesn’t like Hosking,” one person told the BSA.
“In reality we can’t generalise from the results of a small sample to understand the likely impact of airing repeated opinions night after night from a state broadcaster on the attitudes of a wider population,"
Professor Hayward said this in a response on Facebook.
She said she regretted bringing the complaint because she believed the ruling gave strength to the argument that a presenter in a prime time news show could be both “inaccurate” and “dismissive” if comment was pitched as opinion.
She went on to make this point:
“This was not aired on student radio or local television - this is the state broadcaster. It provided a privileged platform to air prejudice which it then defended as opinion.”
If the right to freely air a sincerely-held opinion was the only issue, the media shouldn’t matter, but it does make a difference that TVNZ is publicly-owned.
"TVNZ should not be aligning itself with one view of the world,” New Zealand Herald media writer John Drinnan said back in May. TVNZ needed to "take back control of Seven Sharp," he said.
Just as outfits like ACC and the Super Fund must adhere to ethical principles when investing on behalf of New Zealanders, TVNZ should not privilege the political views held by Mike Hosking - or anyone else - over others.
But TVNZ clearly does this, by giving a pulpit to Mike Hosking each weeknight.