10 May 2020

Radio ‘roadblock’ interview sparks racism complaints

From Mediawatch, 9:06 am on 10 May 2020

A confrontational radio interview about iwi-run roadside checkpoints this week prompted complaints of racism. Broadcaster Sean Plunket condemned one iwi’s actions as “separatism”, asked an iwi leader if he would take similarly strong action over child abuse in the area - and later joked about the absence of Aboriginal Australians from Tasmania.  ​

Ngāti Ruanui iwi leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer.

Photo: Supplied

The ongoing issue of so-called ‘iwi road blocks ‘ - also described as ‘community checkpoints’ - has fired up talkback radio in recent days. After the move to alert level 4, they sprang up in some regions where iwi leaders were worried about people bringing in Covid-19. 

Some of them were set up with the approval of police and local government, but they have prompted questions for the government and police about whether they are legal or desirable. 

This week Newshub reported roadblocks in the eastern Bay of Plenty were turning people away unless they obtained a 'travel permit' from local iwi Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. 

On the Magic Talk radio station on Wednesday, Plunket said he had “multiple communications from people who live in that area who are scared, concerned and confused about the roadblocks”. 

“You sound like a bunch of rogues, bullies and highwaymen,” Plunket told Louis Rapihana - the leader of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui’s Covid-19 response - in an 18-minute interview on Wednesday.  

Earlier in the interview Rapihana  - also an Ōpōtiki District councillor - told Plunket the iwi created a permit system to manage the movement of people in businesses like forestry who were working on or passing through land leased to them by the iwi and to ensure they were following Ministry of Health guidelines. 

Plunket told Rapihana the iwi had no authority from a state agency to stop people. 

He said the iwi’s rules were “silly” and the process was “bullshit” and “all about separatism.” 

“Have you ever considered this sort of major  . . intervention on an issue like - say - child abuse among your population?” Plunket asked near the end of the encounter.  

Rapihana replied that it was not a problem in the area. 

The interview ended amicably, but some who heard that question considered it racist. 

Former MP Tau Henare, for example, accused Plunket of racism on social media. Plunket replied to him - and others making the same accusation - suggesting a cup of tea and a lie down.  

Others have said on social media they will make formal complaints about the broadcast to Magic Talk’s owner MediaWorks, citing section 6a of the Broadcasting Standards Authority’s (BSA) radio code concerning denigration and discrimination.

The interview followed a terse 10 minute interview the previous day with Dr Hayden Read from Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. 

Plunket rejected Dr Read’s claim his community was more vulnerable than others - and said he reckoned the volunteer checkpoints were more likely to breach lockdown rules than enforce them. 

Rapihana told Plunket on Wednesday the checkpoints were part of an effort to protect a bubble of 1100 people in his area. 

“If I could claim Treaty rights I could set up 1000-person bubble but I wouldn’t do that because that would be stupid and put people’s lives at risk,” said Plunket. 

Soon after the interview, a talkback caller told Plunket about his holiday in Tasmania, and mentioned Aboriginal Australians had been “forced off” the island in the colonial past and few live there now. 

“They wouldn’t have any checkpoint problems there would they?” Plunket joked. 

In the BSA’s radio code, ‘discrimination’ is defined as “encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment”. 

‘Denigration’ is defined as “devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.” 

Considering complaints about this in the past, the BSA has stressed that to safeguard freedom of expression, the bar is high

“Often . . . an element of malice or nastiness will be necessary to conclude that a broadcast is in contravention of the standard,” says the BSA’s radio code

The last broadcaster to clear that bar was Heather du Plessis-Allan on Newstalk ZB last year when the BSA decided it did amount to denigration when she told listeners: “The Pacific Islands are leeches on us.”

MediaWorks will have 20 working days to respond to listeners’ written complaints about the broadcast. 

The question echoed another Plunket interview about roadside checkpoints back in early April with Hone Harawira about Te Tai Tokerau checkpoints.

“There are suggestions domestic violence is going up. If you’re so concerned about your community what are you doing about that?” Plunket asked. 

Harawira was happy to tell Plunket about local community initiatives for that and did not take offence at the question.