Monday, March 9, 2015
Mike Butler: Titford hatchet job complaint rejected
What lies beneath that aired on May 12, 2014 “reported on the recent conviction of Northland farmer Allan Titford and examined the cultural and legal impact he had on race relations in New Zealand”, according to the preamble of the decision.
The Maori TV item was one of a series of pieces in the press and on television after his conviction that sought to stress that Titford is a villain and Te Roroa claimants blameless.
Titford was jailed for 24 years on November 20, 2013, on charges including rape, child abuse, and burning down his own house. He faced 53 charges, was found not guilty on 14, and 11 of the remainder were majority verdicts.
Te Roroa claimants occupied part of Titford’s Maunganui Bluff farm from August 7, 1987, until July 4, 1992, claiming it as theirs. They scared off would-be section buyers, intimidated suppliers, vandalized signs, and cut fences to set stock wandering.
From July 4, 1992, when their house burned to the ground, Allan and Susan Titford were no longer able to live on their farm and on December 8, 1995, were forced to sell it to the government.
I complained that What lies beneath breached the controversial issues, accuracy, fairness, and discrimination standards as set out in the free-to-air television code. Investigation of my complaint was very slow. I sent my complaint to Maori TV on May 26, 2014, and the decision was released today.
When Maori TV staff members eventually responded, on December 10, they wrote that the purpose of What lies beneath was to provide "long-overdue balance and a Maori perspective to erroneous mainstream depictions” on matters relating to Allan Titford,
The committee comprising Peter Radich, Mary Anne Shanahan, Leigh Pearson, and Te Raumawhitu Kupenga, that studied the issue on February 3, 2015, rejected every aspect of my treaty issues complaint. Kupenga has had an extensive background in the treaty industry and is listed as the first Maori appointed to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
1. I complained that although two opposing viewpoints were presented in What lies beneath, Maori TV presented the viewpoint it disagreed with in a hostile, pejorative manner, meaning the viewpoint Maori TV disagreed with was not presented fairly.
2. I pointed out a number of factual errors to show that What lies beneath failed to be accurate on all points of fact. The date of the house fire on July 4, 1992, was 22 years ago not 14 years as Mihingarangi Forbes said. An assertion that Titford sold his land to the Crown for five times more than he paid was misleading because it failed to note that after deducting debts incurred by claimant harassment and after stock and plant were deducted Titford walked away with just $200,000 which was the amount of deposit that he paid nine years earlier. I also pointed out that the selection of sources for What lies beneath and the extra time allowed to those supporting Maori TV’s hostility to Titford was far from impartial thus breaching guideline 5c which says news must be impartial.
3. I said the stacking of comments to support the pre-conceived view of both the reporter and the presenter breached standard 6, guideline 6a, which requires fairness in a factual programme.
4. I argued that What lies beneath breached Standard 7 because it encouraged discrimination against and seeks to denigrate those who criticize the divisiveness of race-based affirmative action and treaty politics.
My complaint was more lengthy and detailed than the four summarized points indicate.
In reply, the Broadcasting Standards Authority:
1. Denied that material presented by Titford supporters was presented in a hostile or pejorative manner, and argued that because What lies beneath set out to present a “Maori perspective” it was not surprising that the programme was “critical of views that were dismissive of the treaty and protections afforded to Maori”.
2. Simply agreed with Maori TV’s reasoning on why the period of 14 years was used to describe the time lapsed since the house fire and argued that other inaccuracies would not have impeded a viewer’s understanding of the issues.
3. Argued that because “Titford had been found guilty of the allegations in a court of law he was not treated unfairly”.
4. Argued that because those who criticize the divisiveness of race-based affirmative action and treaty politics are not a recognised section of the community to which standard 7 applies” they cannot be denigrated or discriminated against”.
Their response was longer and more detailed than the summary suggests.
Advertising specialist John Ansell, who leads the Treatygate group, featured in What lies beneath. Because he had been unfairly treated in earlier Maori TV hatchet jobs, he took his own cameraman to film the filming.
Captured on film was a priceless segment of reporter Iulia Leilua refusing to look at or discuss two affidavits describing an account of a deathbed confession by Titford’s father-in-law who said he burned the Titford house down on July 4, 1992.
The full story of the Titford saga remains to be told, and Allan Titford remains locked up in Rimutaka Prison awaiting an appeal that may be years away for convictions that failed to reach the standard of being beyond reasonable doubt.
Undoubted is the fact that a marriage breakdown and a matrimonial property dispute over extensive farm assets held in trusts started a sequence of events that got Titford locked up for 24 years.
Incidents related to the Maunganui Bluff treaty claim occupation did not feature in the former wife’s statements until she sought help from a Cabinet Minister.
After meeting the friendly Minister on February 9, 2010, she was given immunity from prosecution. Arson, attempted arson, and other charges related to the Maunganui Bluff treaty claim occupation were added.
Are there any lessons in Maori TV’s handling of the Titford-Te Roroa story?
I recall a push in the world of news in the 1980s, to have Maori issues covered only by Maori. A Maori reporter colleague at the newspaper where I worked strenuously opposed such a move arguing that Maori reporters would be subject to pressure to gloss over inconvenient facts.
What lies beneath shows shortcomings in Maori TV’s handling of a race-relations issue in which Maori were involved. In this case, the Broadcasting Standards Authority has confirmed that the opinions of reporters and the news organization they work for now officially carry more weight than the facts of the story.
at 9:35 AM