The Media Council today issued its ruling on a complaint from former NZ Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki against Newsroom’s reporting on his role in signing over a public contract from the council to the organisation he now leads.
On May 17, 2022 Newsroom published an article headlined Questions over transfer of $1million public funding. The article investigates the transfer of a funding contract from the New Zealand Māori Council (Māori Council) to the National Māori Authority and whether Matthew Tukaki had the authority to facilitate that transfer. Mr Tukaki complains that several Media Council principles have been breached, specifically Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance; Principle (4) Comment and Fact; Principle (10) Conflicts of Interest; Principle (6) Headlines and Captions; and Principle (9) Subterfuge.
The story reports that in March 2021, the Executive Director of the New Zealand Māori Council, Mr Tukaki, and Ms Diane Tuari, signed a service contract to the value of $965,000 with the Ministry of Business, Immigration and Employment (MBIE). In September 2021, he and Ms Tuari authorised the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), acting on behalf of MBIE, to transfer that contract from the Māori Council to the National Māori Authority. Mr Tukaki is chairman of the National Māori Authority.
The article quotes from a letter from Mr Peter Fraser, National Secretary of the Māori Council which says, “This agreement was authorised on behalf of NZ Māori Council by Mr Tukaki on March 13, and Ms Diane Tuari on March 3 2021, without the knowledge, consent or authority of the NZ Māori Council to enter the agreement.” In reference to the transfer of the contract Mr Fraser is further quoted in the article, saying “By September 2021, Mr Tukaki held no position within the NZ Māori Council whatsoever. He had no authority to novate (transfer) an NZ Māori Council contract.”
Mr Tukaki responded that the executive was aware of the contract, having been informed by him through detailed correspondence and updates. The story says evidence in support of this provided by Mr Tukaki to Newsroom refers to a work scheme but does not mention a contract. Ms Tuari’s response was that “Jean Nankivell was the lead on the (initial) contract …. with the support of the Māori District Council” and her concerns about the legitimacy of the Māori Council post the elections suggested the contract be transferred and that in signing the contract Mr Tukaki was acting on her wishes. Ms Nankivell has since died.
When MSD were asked by Newsroom why it had recognised Mr Tukaki’s authority to act on behalf of the Māori Council it claimed that they were satisfied with the diligence that had been carried out regarding this contract, that they had received no complaints about the contract or Mr Tukaki’s authority to sign on behalf of the Māori Council, “therefore no inquiries have been made”.
Māori Council elections were held in May 2021. With his loss at those elections all of Mr Tukaki’s roles with the Council lapsed, the story said. Before new appointments could be made Mr Tukaki, with Raewyn Harrison, took civil litigation alleging there were irregularities in the elections, attempting to stop the national meeting of the Māori Council proceeding to validate the election results and make appointments. The High Court rejected the claims by Mr Tukaki and Ms Harrison. The Māori Council then went on to validate the election results and make new appointments.
The article reports on a letter that Mr Tukaki sent to the Minister of Māori Development, alleging irregularities in the Māori Council voting process, saying that there were more than 50 names attached to the letter but some on the list were unaware their names had been included. It also states that the Māori Council made a formal complaint to the police in September 2021 about unauthorised payments made from Māori Council accounts after the 2021 elections.
The story concludes with a statement about Mr Tukaki’s appointment in September 2021 to chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Board at Oranga Tamariki. It states how much he was paid and that he was replaced in April 2022 by Sir Mark Solomon.
Mr Tukaki complains both about the publication and the journalist.
He claims that the article was full of inaccuracies or facts that “should have been reported and contained in my statement” to the journalist, implying there were inaccuracies by omission. One fault that Mr Tukaki highlights is the description of the National Māori Authority as being new when it has been established for eight years. He also says that the article fails to include that the 2021 Māori Council elections are still in dispute and there is an ongoing inquiry.
In his complaint Mr Tukaki asserts that he is still an elected officer of the Māori Council and that this has been omitted from the story.
Mr Tukaki complains that he found the journalist rude and arrogant, demanding answers to questions immediately. He suggests that the journalist has a personal interest stemming from an earlier shared experience at a Waitangi Tribunal Hearing. Mr Tukaki also says the article is unsafe and that editorial oversight should have picked up on this.
Mr Tukaki complains that the story is unbalanced because it reports on information furnished by the Māori Council, who he is in dispute with, without offering a counter-story or facts. He also says that the comments on his role with Oranga Tamariki and how much he was paid were immaterial to the article.
The Newsroom co-editor responded immediately on receipt of the complaint saying that the journalist had communicated with Tukaki in written form then in a detailed phone interview. In their response, Newsroom said “that the journalist had found Mr Tukaki belligerent and unwilling to discuss issues without access to information from our sources.” Mr Tukaki was repeatedly asked why he had signed the document on behalf of the Māori Council when he was no longer authorised to do so but did not answer this question.
The editor received an email from Mr Tukaki claiming that the Māori Council elections were still unofficial and that an inquiry was underway. Newsroom does not believe this and finds it difficult to respond to Mr Tukaki’s further claims while he continues to take that line. Newsroom did give Mr Tukaki the opportunity to respond to claims from the Māori Council and that they had made a police complaint. All of his relevant responses were published in the story.
On the principle relating to comment and fact, Newsroom stands by the facts as reported. One error, introduced in sub-editing, did wrongly identify the Māori Authority as a new organisation. When pointed out by Mr Tukaki this was corrected immediately in the copy. Newsroom disputes that Mr Tukaki is still an elected officer of the Māori Council, supplying a press statement by the Māori Council clearly stating that he is not.
Newsroom denies any conflict of interest on the journalist’s behalf, stating that an earlier interaction with the journalist that Mr Tukaki references in his complaint is separate, unrelated, and not in any way connected to the interview or this news story.
Newsroom is unclear what issue there is in the complaint about the headline and asserts no subterfuge of any kind was involved in the gathering or reporting of this story.
The complaint made to the Media Council was largely focused on omission of fact in the article and a suggestion that the journalist had a personal interest or bias in his approach, both leading to an imbalanced report. The acknowledged error in the original article, stating that the National Māori Authority was a new organisation when it is not, was corrected immediately by Newsroom.
Considering this complaint has been more challenging because of the differing views on Mr Tukaki’s position with the Māori Council. Throughout his communications on this matter Mr Tukaki maintains that the 2021 Māori Council elections are still unconfirmed, that there is a review of the elections underway and therefore he still holds his representative and executive director roles with the Māori Council. It is in this belief that he contends that the article is inaccurate in questioning his authority to sign the transfer of the funding contract from the Māori Council to the National Māori Authority in September 2021.
The alternative view as presented in the article is that the 2021 election results stand. Mr Tukaki was removed from both roles with the Māori Council following his loss in the 2021 election. The validity of the elections has been confirmed through a sighted ruling of the High Court which rejected the appeal made by Mr Tukaki and Ms Harrison to stop the upcoming meeting of the Māori Council on the basis of irregularities in the election. Mr Tukaki’s removal from his roles has been confirmed in correspondence and a press release from the Māori Council. This underpins the objective of the article to question Mr Tukaki’s authorisation to sign any contracts for the transfer of funds from the Māori Council. There is no evidence of a review of the elections, though Newsroom states that Te Puni Kokiri is working with the Māori Council to generally review their election processes for the purpose of improvement. The Media Council has been unable to confirm this.
Newsroom has reported that a complaint has been made to the Police about unauthorised signing of financial documents at the Māori Council after September 2021. Mr Tukaki disputes this and says that no complaints have been made. Newsroom is adamant that it has seen official confirmation from senior levels of the police that the NZ Māori Council complaint was lodged.
It appears that the article is informed by valid sources, including the High Court decision and the NZ Māori Council. That Mr Tukaki is in dispute with the Māori Council does not silence them on the issues. Mr Tukaki has been given the opportunity throughout the preparation of this article to put his position forward and to respond to any new information or claims. When relevant his responses were included in the article. The Media Council can find no grounds to uphold the complaint on the basis of Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance or Principle (4) Comment or Fact.
There is no evidence to support the complaint under Principle (10) Conflicts of Interest. The investigative nature of the article presents a timeline of events and facts which are balanced by responses from Mr Tukaki. There is no substantiation to the link made by Mr Tukaki to the journalist’s appearance at the Waitangi Tribunal Hearing and the approach he has taken in writing this article. This seems to be an unfair attack on the journalist.
Mr Tukaki did not elaborate on his concerns under Principle (6) Headlines and Captions or Principle (9) Subterfuge. It seems that the main point of his complaint was adequately captured under Principle (1) Accuracy, Fairness and Balance therefore the complaints under Principles (6) and (9) are not upheld.
Mr Tukaki’s appointment to the Oranga Tamariki Ministerial Advisory Board, his payment for that and his replacement by Sir Mark Solomon are discussed in the last paragraph of the article. While Mr Tukaki complains that this is immaterial, the Media Council sees this as giving the reader more information about the controversies Mr Tukaki has been involved with.
Decision: The complaint is not upheld.
Council members considering the complaint were the Hon. Raynor Asher (Chair) Jo Cribb, Ben France-Hudson, Judi Jones, Marie Shroff, Alison Thom, Hank Schouten, Jonathan Mackenzie, Rosemary Barraclough, Tim Watkin.