Last Sunday the front page of a national newspaper featured a quarter of its expanse taken up by a photograph of Mihingarangi Forbes, the powerhouse journalist whose new Maori current affairs show

The Hui

was to debut that morning on TV3.

Great promotional win for the wonderful people at the MediaWorks comms team, right?

Nope. It was, in fact, a deeply problematic story accusing Forbes of having stolen a number of dresses on her departure from Maori TV.

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Everything about the story stank to high heaven: the dresses were purchased for her, and had a book value of less then $800. Not only that, but she had a letter authorising her taking the clothing in lieu of overtime payment through the (notoriously overtime heavy) general election of 2014.

The story was based on an OIA request which looked exceedingly suspicious - they suggested an internal tipoff, and the memos discovered read as if designed for public rather than private consumption.

Most obnoxious of all was the timing, coming nearly a year after the events described had occurred, and the very morning Forbes' new show went to air on a rival channel.

Hardly mentioned in the piece was the fact Forbes had resigned from Maori TV on principle after the channel repeatedly attempted to quash she and her colleague Annabel Lee's brave and dogged reporting on financial mismanagement at Kohanga Reo trusts.

What we had was a giant steaming turd very deliberately laid on the doorstep of The Hui, and looked very much like two news organisations acting in concert and with extraordinary cyncism.

It was very fortunate, then, that at 9.30am on Sunday (early weekend hours are now prime news time, don't you know?) The Hui debuted with a sensational half hour of "Maori current affairs for all New Zealanders."

Reporter Mihingarangi Forbes on The Hui.
Reporter Mihingarangi Forbes on The Hui.

Forbes' chief contribution was a fiery closing interview with the Minister of Education, Hekia Parata, on the debate around the teaching of the New Zealand Wars in schools. Forbes was passionate and arguing an irrefutable case. Parata was too deft though, and they fought to a draw.

The major report was conducted by Annabelle Lee into fraud and identity theft on Facebook. Her story was clearly a product of serious care and long in the reporting. It featured Pat Tapara, a great bear of a man, sat at a picnic table in a leather jacket.

He had faded tattoos on his neck and fresh tears on his face as he told Lee about a woman who approached him on Facebook with an extraordinary story.

A scene from the new current affairs TV show, The Hui.
A scene from the new current affairs TV show, The Hui.

"I really just friended you on Facebook to let you know that you are father to two girls; two twins," he recalled her saying.

Tapara was taken aback, mostly because as well as having no memory of meeting the woman, he had been told an accident as a youth had left him unable to conceive.

But she seemed certain, and the idea his being father to two beautiul grown-up girls affected him deeply. After learning that one had just birthed twins of her own he started to send money to help with their care, thousands of dollars over a period of months.

The scam was only revealed when one of the fictional babies suddenly died. Tapara and his whanau journeyed up to Hamilton for the tangi, but found no one there. He never heard from his 'daughter' again.

To this point it might have been any well-meaning piece on the dangers of phishing and cyber crime and all that. But Lee had found and interviewed the con-artist, a transgender woman with rough teeth, and, in her own way as tragic a figure as Tapara.

At one point Lee eyeballed her with that unnerving stare and asked "are there easier ways to make money?"

"For a transgender wahine?" she replied. "No."

A scene from the new current affairs TV show, The Hui.
A scene from the new current affairs TV show, The Hui.

It was a very moving and subtle piece of longform current affairs, and it contrasted acutely with the rubbish on the front page of the paper.

"This bullshit at Maori Television must stop," wrote Forbes, justfiably pissed off, on Facebook in response to the story. "In the meantime we'll just keep shining the light in dark places."

Which is exactly what The Hui looks like doing.

The Hui screens on TV3, Sundays at 9.30am

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