I'll level with you. It's been difficult not to eye-roll any promises of positive change associated with condemnation of racist comments from John Banks/Sean Plunket/ talkback radio.
Anyone familiar with Banks' talkback history, and a raft of other problematic radio hosts and discussions, could ask what set last month's anti-Māori "conversation" apart. Spouting vitriol, racism and ignorance from his platforms - radio host and politician - was his modus operandi for much of my 20s. Like the housing crisis, it sailed through the end of that and into my 30s.
Now, he's been fired and Plunket has also departed - a move many commentators believe was necessary in the wake of Banks' comments. Also significant is a December Broadcasting Standards Authority decision that found an interview Plunket conducted on iwi Covid checkpoints was racist.
As companies which advertised with Magic Talk cut ties, it was KiwiBank's explanation which earned the biggest grin from me.
"There was no ambiguity to the situation. Our teams were able to make the right decision swiftly without the need for further discussion up or through the business chain," KiwiBank told media outlet Newsroom.
Essentially, Banks' behaviour was determined to be so racist and outrageous, top-level sign-off was not needed to cancel the relationship. That is for some, but not all. Spark and TradeMe were among companies that withdrew advertising, while NZ Cricket publicly condemned the racism but opted to continue with its broadcasting relationship with the station.
The reaction of one company did indicate more than the usual, reactive damage-control-and-move-on scenario. Vodafone NZ followed up its advertising withdrawal from Magic Talk with an announcement of an ethical advertising policy. The document posted on the company's website states it will not be associated with content, activity, editorial or advertising that it believes is racist, sexist and/ or bigoted. Its head of marketing, Delina Shields, also acknowledged in a statement the policy placed a large amount of responsibility on the company to identify what fits into those categories.
"We will need to make judgment calls - and we know that means we might not always get it right," she said.
For those of us often left dissatisfied with organisations which fail to act on anti-racism proclamations, Vodafone's policy was an interesting development in Banks' exit from radio.
Deepti Bhargava, a public relations lecturer at the Auckland University of Technology, discussed the announcement in a wider corporate social responsibility (CSR) framework.
"There is a movement towards rising expectations from society and stakeholders in terms of higher ethical standards," she said. "If you look at CSR, it is about people, planet and profit. But those three things are interlinked - one doesn't exist in isolation."
Corporates do need to take a holistic view and they need to examine the effect that one decision, in one aspect, such as the profit aspect or the economic aspect might have on society.
Bhargava also pointed out any change would take a lot of work and time. Public sentiment and accountability would be critical in sustaining that, she said.
Real social responsibility is about how a business is run, so when an organisation like Vodafone commits to enacting its values in everyday life, action and decision-making - that's when the values actually become real. For example, when you are deciding to align your marketing and advertising budget towards a particular sponsorship, you will then have to see if that sponsorship actually does align or is congruent with the values that Vodafone stands for. If the congruency doesn't exist, then the public will call you out for it as your values are not consistent with how you're practising, she said.
Clearly, remaining with Magic Talk did not vibe with an ethical advertising policy in 2021. For the record, I'm also sure the same policy five years ago would have resulted in a similar conclusion. And while I'm too practical to declare Vodafone's announcement, and the accompanying advertising de-funding at Magic Talk a victory just yet, it is a positive sign for corporate responsibility around racism. Let's just hope it doesn't take another loud, ugly declaration of racism on the airwaves to get the next lot of overdue change.