Anna Leask

Anna Leask is a police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Fake abuse messages rattle TVNZ

Apology after presenter and reporter read made-up insults for online bullying report.

Peter Williams.
Peter Williams.

TVNZ's Breakfast show presenters have apologised for fake bullying messages read out by colleagues on national television.

Veteran broadcaster Peter Williams and Seven Sharp reporter Dean Butler are being dealt with by TVNZ management after it was revealed messages they read in a segment on the Breakfast programme about online bullying were fake.

They and eight colleagues at TVNZ were asked to read insulting comments aloud for the segment, which dealt with online bullying and abuse after the death of television personality Charlotte Dawson.

It is understood that earlier this week Breakfast reporter Sam Wallace approached colleagues to read messages they had been sent by members of the public to highlight the issue of abuse people in the public eye suffered. The piece was applauded by viewers and other media alike.

Williams read: "My mother always told me that people who talk slowly think slowly.

You talk slowly, Peter Williams."

Butler said his message was: "Don't take this the wrong way but I hope someone punches you."

The other TVNZ reporters and presenters to read messages were Toni Street, Jesse Mulligan, Ruth Wynn-Williams, Nadine Chalmers-Ross, Brooke Dobson, Matt McLean, Helen Castles and Wallace.

Last night TVNZ head of news John Gillespie conceded that while the other messages were genuine, Williams and Butler's were not. They had been removed from all TVNZ websites including the on-demand and Facebook pages.

Williams' comment was included in the video that went to air on Breakfast but was "removed afterwards when he realised the misunderstanding". Butler's comments were removed yesterday.

"Even though they could have taken their pick from genuine viewer abuse, Peter Williams and Dean Butler misunderstood what they'd been asked to provide and read aloud messages that hadn't come from our viewers," Mr Gillespie said.

This morning during the show, Breakfast's presenter Rawdon Christie and Alison Pugh apologised for the pair's actions.

"We told you they were all genuine, we believed they were all genuine. Our intention, to highlight how serious this type of bullying is, and that all walks of life can be on the receiving end,'' Christie said.

"They had simply misunderstood what we were doing and thought they had been asked to provide for a light-hearted parody,'' Pugh said.

"The guys are mortified about what's happened there, obviously so are we.

"It was wrong, we apologise and we must stress that all the other messages were genuine,'' Christie said.

Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss refused to comment on the matter, with his spokeswoman saying it was an operational issue.

Media commentator: It's 'extraordinary that they would do that'

Media commentator Brian Edwards said the incident might have been an "error of judgment" on their part, but was unacceptable.

"It's inexplicable that people like this who have reputations that require them to be absolutely honest and above board as a newsreader ... I just find that extraordinary that they would do that," he said.

Lifeline chief executive Jo Denvir said she feared the fabricated messages might trivialise online bullying and suicide. "It is a very real phenomenon - you don't actually need to make anything up," she said.

"Possibly they thought they were doing the right thing, but for those of us who work with suicide every day or the repercussions on families or people affected by suicide, this is not something that should be tampered with by making things up."

- NZ Herald

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