Māori Television has admitted publishing false allegations about former High Court justice, Sir Edward Taihākurei Durie, and his wife, Donna Hall, and it has apologised to the couple.
In 2015, Māori Television ran a story about Sir Edward and Ms Hall. That story made serious untrue allegations about both people.
Māori Television did not verify the truth of the allegations before publishing them. It did not contact Sir Edward for comment. When it contacted Ms Hall, she told the journalist she was committed with a work deadline and could not respond in their timeframe. Ms Hall said that if given more time she could provide documents which proved the allegations were false. Māori Television refused to wait.
Ms Hall was frustrated by the lack of effort taken by Māori Television before publishing its story. “They didn’t check the facts,” she said. “Responsible journalists would have quickly found proof that the material they were relying on was bogus. But Māori Television made no effort to independently check the veracity of the claims. The only other person Māori Television has said they spoke to was Maanu Paul, one of the people who had made the false allegations in the first place.”
In 2015, it was discovered that Auckland Mayoral candidate, John Tamihere, and others had organised unlawful elections for the Auckland District Māori Council. The majority of the New Zealand Māori Council upheld a complaint about those elections and refused to recognise them. That decision was later upheld by the High Court. Mr Tamihere initiated an abusive email campaign against the couple.
The New Zealand Māori Council then voted to remove Mr Tamihere for misconduct. However, a small group within the New Zealand Māori Council rallied behind Mr Tamihere. That included Maanu Paul, Des Ratama, and Titewhai Harawira.
“I think it was because Taihākurei and I had spoken against the unlawful elections in Auckland, Tamihere, Maanu, Des, Titewhai and others retaliated against us,” Ms Hall suggested. “They accused us both of various misdeeds. The allegations were serious but the making of them plain silly. There were formal records which could prove things they were saying were false. These were the allegations that were shared with Māori Television.”
Only two days after the publication, lawyers representing the couple wrote to Māori Television and provided them with documentary proof that the published allegations had been false. “We provided indisputable proof that the allegations had been false”, said Ms Hall. “We asked them to use that material to publish a retraction. They refused. They were not prepared to report the facts. Instead, they wanted to keep the story going as one person’s view against another’s.
“For almost four years, we have run the defamation claim before the Courts. Māori Television kept saying they couldn’t retract the story because they didn’t want to take sides. That is utter rubbish,” said Ms Hall. “Māori Television took sides when they published untrue allegations about my husband and me. Then they took sides again by refusing to correct the error even after they knew they had gotten it wrong.”
In a landmark decision in their case last year, the Court of Appeal recognised a new defamation defence of responsible communication. However, the Court found that Māori Television’s publications lacked neutrality and were either irresponsible or difficult to justify as responsible. “We supported the recognition of the new defence, but argued that Māori Television could not use it in this case,” explained Ms Hall. “The case was due back before the High Court this Monday, and we were hopeful of having more of Māori Television’s defences thrown out.”
Sir Edward and Ms Hall have now settled their dispute with Māori Television. The terms of the settlement agreement are confidential. However, Māori Television has published a retraction and an apology. It has accepted that it has no evidence to support any of the allegations that were made against Sir Edward and Ms Hall. It has gone further and confirmed that the key allegations it reported in its 2015 story are false.
“We are delighted with the terms of the settlement and relieved that it is all over, said Ms Hall. “This is the complete vindication for the wrong done to my husband and me. We want to thank our lawyers for their years of hard work: Felix Geiringer, Steven Price, Richard Fowler QC, and Jane Forrest. Without their tireless effort Māori Television would not have been held to account.