Reporters, ethics, and Hobson’s Pledge

By Mike Butler

Mike-Butler_1467521879_480X532_c_c_0_0.jpgThe appearance of the words “Don Brash” and “Maori” in the same sentence is like a red rag to a bull for New Zealand’s politically correct mainstream media. 

The launch of the new lobby group called Hobson’s Pledge on September 28, 2016, generated wide media hostility to criticism of government policy on separate Maori seats, treaty settlements, and race-based affirmative action.


This article focuses on two items, “The people behind Hobson’s Pledge”,[1] aired by Radio New Zealand on September 29, and Interview: Don Brash and Louisa Wall, on TV3’s The Nation on October 1.[2]

I am commenting both as a member of Hobson’s Pledge who was involved in one of the above-stated interviews, and as a former chief sub-editor who spent 18 years working in newspapers.

Guyon Espiner introduced Mihi Forbes’ clip on Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme by saying “Don Brash has been hitting the headlines for championing a new lobby group formed to get rid of so-called Maori privilege”.

But the Hobson’s Pledge website says the group was formed to affirm “a society in which all citizens are equal before the law, irrespective of when they or their ancestors arrived in this land”.

The only statements that could construed as having anything to do with “Maori privilege” appear on the website’s home page, in the first of four points explaining why HP was established, which says:

“We can find nothing in the Treaty of Waitangi justifying any racial preference under the law”.

And in the section of the home page summarising the TOW which says:

“that “tangata maori” would enjoy the rights and privileges of British subjects”.

That’s it.

Reporter Mihi Forbes phoned around a number of people listed on the Hobson’s Pledge “Who we are” page, which has no contact details. No list of contact details was supplied. Those she phoned referred her to the two spokespersons, Don Brash and Casey Costello.

Not to be deterred, Forbes said she wanted to ask all members five questions. For those who kept talking to her, the questions were:

Q 1. "What is the single worst example of Maori privilege that you can think of?"

Q 2. “What is your group doing for your people?”

Q 3. What is your group doing about white collar crime?

Q 4. What do you think of Maori inequalities in life expectance, health, and education?

Q 5. What percentage pakeha are you?

It appeared that Forbes assumed that Hobson’s Pledge members were elderly and white, and questions 2, 3, and 5, looked like an attempt to ask the sort of questions these elderly whities would ask of people with Maori ancestry. She did not contact Hobson’s Pledge members who do have Maori ancestry.

When she asked me "What is the worst example of Maori privilege that you can think of?" my answer was: "We're not talking about Maori privilege. We're talking about faulty government policy that is creating separatism".

Forbes said: But you talk about Maori privilege on your website".

I said "Can you give me an example?"

Forbes said: "Not off the top of my head but it's there".

As already demonstrated, the claim that Hobson’s Pledge is all about ending Maori privilege is not based on the contents of the Hobson’s Pledge website.

What is on the website are 17 pages covering animist beliefs, indoctrination, the iwi participation clauses in the proposed amendment to the Resource Management Act, the Maori seats, treaty principles, treaty texts, tribalised local government, why the Waitangi Tribunal must be disestablished, and why the tax exemption for tribal charities should be rescinded.

Each of these issues is in the public interest and is worthy of debate. There was no indication of any of these issues either in the Forbes report or in any of the Radio New Zealand reports on Hobson’s Pledge. There was no attempt to discuss or debate any of these issues.

Forbes and Espiner appeared to be using the classic “straw man” argument, which is based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent.

Turning to TV3’s The Nation, the “interview” of Don Brash by Lisa Owen that aired on Saturday, October 1, was a two-on-one ambush in which Owen asked a series of questions while Labour MP Louisa Wall talked and interjected virtually non-stop.

The “interview” was more like a segment of the television game show Distraction, on which comedian Jimmy Carr fired questions at contestants who were being distracted in various bizarre, painful and humiliating ways.

The Hobson’s Pledge segment on The Nation followed a standard interview with the new children’s commissioner Andrew Becroft who was asked serious questions and given time to respond.

Why was Don Brash singled out for attack. Owen did not ambush Becroft by having some harridan from the Child Poverty Action Group whining over every statement.

If Owen was even-handed and dispassionate, as reporters and interviewers are expected to be, she would have afforded Don Brash the same courtesy that she extended to Andrew Becroft.

Are reporters, sub-editors, and news readers subject to ethical standards?

News workers who belonged to the EPMU union before it became E tu last year were subject to a code of ethics that came from the former New Zealand Journalists’ Union. It is unclear whether the code of conduct is part of the new union, or whether Espiner, Forbes, and Owen are part of that union.

Under an introductory statement that said “respect for truth and the public's right to information are overriding principles for all journalists” there were 10 points, the first four of which are relevant: 

(a) They shall report and interpret the news with scrupulous honesty by striving to disclose all essential facts and by not suppressing relevant, available facts or distorting by wrong or improper emphasis.

(b) They shall not place unnecessary emphasis on gender, race, sexual preference, religious belief, marital status or physical or mental disability.

(c) In all circumstances they shall respect all confidences received in the course of their occupation.

(d) They shall not allow personal interests to influence them in their professional duties.[3]

Did Espiner, Forbes, and Owen report Hobson’s Pledge “with scrupulous honesty by striving to disclose all essential facts”? Did they "allow their personal interests to influence them in their professional duties"?

You may decide for yourself by viewing both clips, checking out the Hobson’s Pledge website, and measuring what you see and hear against this code of ethics.

[3] EPMU Code of Ethics.



[3] EPMU Code of Ethics.