26 Feb 2021

MediaWorks admits 'organisational failure' over racist radio broadcast

From Mediawatch, 1:14 pm on 26 February 2021

MediaWorks has conceded a controverisal exchange in which host John Banks and a caller condemned "stone age Māori culture" - broadcast on Magic Talk in January - was "a serious breach" of broadcasting standards. The company says it will now educate staff on "cultural understanding" and broadcasting standards.

John Banks addresing the media after the Court of Appeal cancelled an order he should be retried on a charge relating to election expenses

John Banks addresing the media after the Court of Appeal cancelled an order he should be retried on a charge relating to election expenses Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

MediaWorks has told complainants an exchange between John Banks and a caller on Magic Talk breached broadcasting standards for discrimination and denigration as well as good taste and decency - and represented an "organisational and editorial failure".

Banks was filling in for the station's regular morning host Peter Williams on 26 January when a phone-in caller named Richard said Māori came from a "stone age culture" and were genetically predisposed to crime and alcohol abuse.

Banks told Richard his children had "better get used to their stone age culture".

"If their stone age culture doesn’t change, these people will come through your bathroom window," he said.

Banks apologised the next day, but was stood down after the exchange was shared widely on social media and several advertisers withdrew their business from Magic Talk.

MediaWorks chief executive Cam Wallace told staff in an internal memo that Banks would not work at the company again while he was in his role.

"This type of behaviour is totally unacceptable and will never be tolerated," Wallace said in the memo - but he declined to be interviewed on Mediawatch at the time.

MediaWorks received multiple formal complaints about the broadcast.

Complainants were told today MediaWorks' standards committee found the broadcast breached standards of good taste and decency and denigration.

"On behalf of MediaWorks, the standards committee offers its sincere apology to Māori, to  complainants and to the wider public for this broadcast and the harm that it caused."

MediaWorks said it held meetings with staff at Magic Talk to discuss the cause of the standards breach and how to avoid similar situations in future.

It would be setting up sessions to educate staff on "cultural understanding" and broadcasting standards "imminently". 

The committee noted the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) had already censured Magic Talk’s afternoon host Sean Plunket in December 2020 over an interview which "amplified negative stereotypes about Māori".

Plunket interviewed Te Whānau ā Apanui spokesman Louis Rapihana about Covid-19 checkpoints in May 2020. The BSA said the interview had the potential to cause widespread harm.

That interview and previous comments came under further scrutiny following Banks’ dismissal. 

On 10 February, Plunket agreed to leave Magic Talk.

Magic Talk was also criticised this month after Peter Williams allowed Covid vaccine misinformation to be broadcast. Just over a week later finance minister Grant Robertson pulled out of his weekly interview with the talkback host after he asked him about 'The Great Reset' - a phrase used by conspiracy theorists who believe global elites are using Covid-19 to reorganise the world's economy.

MediaWorks insisted the host was referring to the World Economic Forum proposal which conspiracy theorists have distorted to advance their ideas.

This week MediaWorks announced the appointment of a new general counsel for the company - Rachel Callaghan.

"Current HR and legal director Alex Nicholson can solely focus on our people moving forward," said Wallace.

"I know Alex has been wanting to do this for some time I’m excited about working with her on our people and culture."