19 Jun 2019

Midweek Mediawatch 19 June 2019

From Mediawatch, 6:00 pm on 19 June 2019

Mediawatch's weekly catch-up with Lately. Colin Peacock talks to Karyn Hay about behind-the-scenes bluster from property profiteers out in the open, the maths of kiwifruit, a lookback at a story that faded from the headlines, the end of the innings for the oldest-ever editor - and further fallout from the coverage of Oranga Tamariki’s track record. ​

Matt Shand does the mahi and the maths picking kiwifruit for The Sunday Star Times.

Matt Shand does the mahi and the maths picking kiwifruit for The Sunday Star Times. Photo: PHOTO / Sunday Star Times

A not so uplifting story

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Photo: Oranga Tamariki

There’s been a huge response to Melanie Reid’s confronting fly-on-the-wall account for Newsroom of Oranga Tamariki's attempt to ‘uplift’ a new baby from her teenage Maori mum in Hastings Hospital, which we looked at last weekend on Mediawatch.  

It was announced on Sunday there will be an independent inquiry into that and also an internal one - a direct result of Newsroom's video scoop.

Oranga Tamariki’s also in the gun after RNZ's First Up highlighted the removal of a child from Samoan foster parents.

Journalists and commentators opining on this have almost unanimously criticised OT and called for change.   

“Thanks to the efforts of whanau with cellphones and a determined journalist we got to see just what "vulnerable" can mean when that ministry makes up its mind about you,” wrote David Slack in the Sunday Star Times.

“The extensive footage makes it abundantly clear what's going on. We see people exerting the power of the state with undue certitude.,” said David Slack, reacting to the chief executive of Oranga Tamariki on TV3 citing "significant misrepresentation" in the Newsroom story.

He urged Jacinda Ardern to act - as did political commentator Chris Trotter” who invoked Nazi war crimes - sort of - on Twitter:

But can we say with any certainty the child welfare system is broken based on eye-witness accounts at the point where the children are being removed?  

Journalists and social workers alike were frustrated by privacy considerations and active court proceedings restricting their scope to comment on these cases.

Most politicians asked for an opinion in the media backed Oranga Tamariki and is “damned if they do, damned if they don't” social workers.

As we pointed out on Mediawatch, the Hastings case and the rising number of Maori babies taken had been aired in the media a lot in the past six months without much outcry and commentary.

The rising stats were barely reported when they were raised earlier at a Parliamentary committee by Oranga Tamariki’s CEO and the children’s minister Tracey Martin.  

There have been many strident calls in the media for either or both of them to quit lately, but OT is just over two years into a five-year programme to reverse failings of forerunner CYFS. It would be better to hear the minister and CEO judged in this context rather than two cases at crisis point.

Just two months ago Stuff looked at this in detail in a series prompted by rising rates of babies taken into care.

It mentioned laws coming into effect on July 1 “which will see Oranga Tamariki have to demonstrate a partnership with iwi, Māori organisations and authorities.”

"We are keenly anticipating a radically new approach when the law takes effect so another reason it's too early to judge." said children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft at that time. 

Property's passive income - and Kiwifruit's hard graft

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Photo: PHOTO / RNZ Mediawatch

The Herald’s scoop this weekend - City of Sales by Kirsty Johnston - was brilliant. She went behind the scenes at a  property investor's conference and reported a lot of the bluster that speakers probably didn’t expect to be aired in the media.

The first slide celebrates the death of New Zealand's proposed capital gains tax. "Phew!" it says. "Defeated!"

"We defeated it!" says host Matthew Gilligan, reading aloud. He pauses for dramatic effect and looks up. "I did have to cancel a new Porsche."

There’s even a Treasury official quoted as making blunt things about the future of the market that the treasury itself would never say.

Most relevant though is how the not-really-legal conversions of garages into 'utility room' accommodation is now standard practice - and no-one’s complaining because of the shortage of housing. Kirsty's report has prompted an Auckland councillor to call for an investigation

it's a great read and exactly the sort of stuff that's paywall-worthy for the Herald now hawking its digital subscriptions, which publisher NZME said last week have passed the 10k milestone.  

Also: it’s not quite as “behind closed doors’ but Matt Shand’s eye Kiwifruit picking: 'Hot hard work that nobody wants to do' in the Sunday Star Time last weekend is great.

"That day Countdown had loose green kiwifruit listed at $2.80 per kg with 13 kiwifruit in a kilogram. Workers are paid .04c to pick that kg. That day we picked $138,600 worth of kiwifruit (0.215 cents each) but were paid $1987.2 before tax. That represents 1.3 per cent of the finished price. "

Lots more eye-watering maths from Matt in that piece

The Sir Ray Avery story one year on 

Sir Ray Avery on Newshub Nation earlier this month, accusing Helen Clark of grandstanding.

Sir Ray Avery on Newshub Nation earlier this month, accusing Helen Clark of grandstanding. Photo: screenshot / Newshub Nation

For a party that harvested just 13,000 notes nationwide (0.5% of the 2.6m party votes cast) and hardly ever registers above 1 per cent in the opinion polls, ACT rarely has trouble getting the media to take its policy pronouncements seriously.

An event last Sunday was sold to the media as a re-launch of the party and his free speech law changes have certainly grabbed the media's attention. We'll be looking at that on Mediawatch this weekend. 

In an interview with leader David Seymour had pride of place on the Newshub Nation show on Saturday he said one of the laws he wants to change is the the Harmful Digital Communications Act, which protects people from online bullying, revenge porn and other forms of digital abuse. Act says it should only apply to under-18s  

When asked why David Seymour said this: 

"If you think someone said something offensive, then you can actually go and have that litigated through the courts. Now, just remember Newsroom – a very important establishment in New Zealand journalism – has already had to face off a threat under the Harmful Digital Communication Act. I don’t think that adults should be able to use it to litigate disputes with other adults. Protecting kids from bullying, sure. I’m an electorate MP. Principals and parents tell me all the time that’s an important issue, but it shouldn’t be enabling adults to use the state to win debates.

Businessman and fundraiser Sir Ray Avery laid a complaint with Netsafe alleging several of Newsroom’s articles about his track record were harmful - and should be taken down.

But Netsafe declined to act on it saying it isn't clear if complaints under the Act apply to media at all.

Newsroom need to nothing, they said  - while Sir Ray had the option of going to the District Court if he wanted to pursue the matter.

He hasn’t so far.

And neither has anyone else used the law to taken news media since it was passed in 2015.  

Newsroom's investigation into Sir Ray Avery's claims about his medial innovations and his fundraising methods made lots of headlines at the time - and his plans for a major "Million babies" concert were ruined. 

But whatever happened to the allegations?  

Last week Newsroom's Laura Walters produced an excellent summary of the Internal Affairs investigation. Facsinating reading.

Clearly still no love lost as far as Sir Ray is concerned.

"Newsroom asked Avery questions about the status of the clinical trial in Chennai, and other things. He indicated he would not be answering them, as he did not believe the writer's style of journalism "added any value to the fabric of society".

Entertaining obituary for an evergreen editor

Last Friday, Stuff’s papers carried a full-page obit for the long-serving editor of the local paper in St Arnaud. But not the Tasman town you visit when heading for the Nelson lakes -- St Arnuad in Victoria in Australia.

An odd choice for local papers here,  I thought . . . but a good one as it happens.

Former colleague James Button’s account of the life of Ella Ebery, who has died aged 103, is great - especially the full version which ran across the ditch.

At 63, she began editing North Central News, the newspaper of St Arnaud, in the Wimmera. She edited it for the next 34 years, writing and fighting for her town.

"In 2013, aged 97, she was made redundant and respectfully asked to hand the editor's job to a younger person. She was outraged. She felt she had years left to give. That was Ella."

"At 17, lacking a high school diploma because she failed mathematics, and jobs for women being scarce, she met Jack Ebery, a shearer. After they married and he was pulled out of the army to help produce wool for the war effort against the Japanese, Ella travelled with his shearers' crew around outback NSW. She cooked them roasts, stews and steam puddings, hung an apron outside the "doorless dunny" to let the men know she was in it, and braved their unspoken hostility at having a woman in their midst."

Here she is talking about it:

An afternoon tea to celebrate Ella's life will be held at St Arnaud Town Hall on Thursday June 20, at 2pm.