An independent investigation has been launched at Whakaata Māori (Māori Television) after a reporter suddenly quit, with his resignation letter raising serious allegations over the way management handled a complaint from a leading political figure about one of his articles.
However, Whakaata Māori’s board has expressed “full confidence” in the broadcaster’s chief executive (kaihautū), Shane Taurima, after reporter Will Trafford’s resignation letter took aim at him and the way he handled the complaint from Te Pāti Māori president John Tamihere.
Trafford’s resignation letter was also shared with newsroom staff, leading to the organisation calling a staff hui.
Trafford’s article, published on November 9, focused on the operation of a polling booth at Manurewa Marae at the general election and the Electoral Commission confirming that it had received complaints.
The article highlighted Te Pāti Māori candidate Takutai Tarsh Kemp - who won the Māori seat of Tāmaki Makarau by just four votes - was the CEO of Manurewa Marae.
The article was removed from Whakaata Māori’s website after Tamihere complained to Taurima.
A follow-up opinion column by Tamihere took issue with the article, claiming it was fake.
However, Whakaata Māori claimed the article was factually correct but failed “to seek a right of response”, which meant it “did not uphold editorial standards of balance”.
According to his resignation letter, Trafford does not believe the complaint was handled appropriately by Taurima.
Trafford did not respond to a message. Following the publication of this story, Media Insider spoke to Trafford who said he could not comment.
In a statement to Media Insider, Whakaata Māori chair Jamie Tuuta said: “We strongly refute the seriously defamatory, untrue, and unsubstantiated allegations that have been made by Mr Trafford.
“We stand by the actions that were taken by senior management to respond to the complaint to uphold our editorial and complaint policies and the integrity of our news service. We have full confidence in the kaihautū.”
However, the board had agreed to a request from Taurima for the allegations to be “investigated independently”.
“We have engaged senior barrister Nura Taefi to do this work and expect to receive her report shortly.”
Tuuta said Taurima had received the original complaint from Tamihere alleging that no right of reply had been sought for the article.
As per editorial and complaint policies, he said, Taurima referred the complaint to the director of news and current affairs, asking if the claim was true.
“It was found to be true. The complaint was referred to the director of news and current affairs and director of content to manage and take steps they felt were required.”
The pair made the call to remove the story, he said, independent of the chief executive. “The original story was removed on Friday 10 November and replaced with the updated story at the same time, which provided balance.”
Tuuta said Whakaata Māori rejected any allegation of a breach of journalistic independence.
“We strongly refute these allegations. We are an independent and apolitical organisation that upholds high standards of journalism, and our news and current affairs content speaks for itself.”
Tuuta confirmed a staff hui was held on November 15, after the resignation letter was sent to staff members.
“We wanted to make sure staff were okay. The contents of the resignation letter were not discussed at the meeting because they involved confidential employment matters.”
He said there had been no request to keep the resignation letter quiet.
The NZ Herald, which has a content-sharing agreement with Whakaata Māori, published the article as part of that arrangement. The Herald’s version was updated with comments from Tamihere.
- Editor-at-Large Shayne Currie is one of New Zealand’s most experienced senior journalists and media leaders. He has held executive and senior editorial roles at NZME including Managing Editor, NZ Herald Editor and Herald on Sunday Editor and has a small shareholding in NZME.