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TVNZ, not Hosking, owes NZ the biggest apology

In 2008 TVNZ issued an apology for a switching failure that meant viewers missed seeing Moss Burmester come fourth in the men’s 200 metre Butterfly final at the Beijing Olympics.

In July 2011, the broadcaster apologised to viewers of TV 1 and TV 2 for an outage that lasted 11 minutes.

Following Paul Henry’s comments about then Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand and his offensive antics over the name of Sheila Dikshit, they had this to say to over 600 complainants: "The Complaints Committee sincerely apologises to you for the breach of Broadcasting Standards. We understand that you were deeply offended by Paul Henry's comments.''

And last year, it issued a heartfelt and sincere apology to viewers of Brief Encounter, a show about four housewives selling lingerie, and scheduled a repeat screening after an electronic programme guide error meant fans missed the finale.

I googled “TVNZ apologises’ to find these examples as I just wanted to make sure they were capable of doing something before asking why they weren’t doing it. You can’t ask a kid to ride a bike if they’ve never learned how.

Having established TVNZ is capable of apologising and making right, I am now even more confused as to why it hasn't done so with regards to a matter that is somewhat more serious than fans not knowing the fate of their favourite fictional knicker saleswomen. Perhaps TVNZ needs reminding that even if you haven’t been on a bike for a while, muscle memory will kick in and you’ll be riding again in no time.

Last Wednesday night on Seven Sharp, NZ's most-watched current affairs show, Mike Hosking, the thinking person’s shock jock, and long-suffering co-host Toni Street were discussing TVNZ’s Vote Compass, an online tool designed to help people calculate how their political views compare with the public policy positions of parties in New Zealand – a valid and noble contribution to civics education and informed decision-making.

During their discussion, Hosking said to Street: "you can't vote for the Māori Party because you're not enrolled on the Māori electorate".

Te Ururoa Flavell: 'You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube.' Photo: Getty Images

That was a totally incorrect and utterly misleading statement. Anyone enrolled to vote can cast a party vote for the Māori Party regardless of what electoral roll they are on, as everyone has the same list of political parties to choose from on their ballot papers when using their party vote. This is how MMP works. MMP is the system we use to elect our representatives to Parliament. It is a rather crucial part of our democracy in action.

To understand it is to be further enabled as a citizen and aiding in the understanding of it, or at the very least correcting a misrepresentation of it, seems like the kind of civic responsibility one might say is befitting of the country’s state broadcaster.

And yet, even after saying they accepted Hosking’s comments were inaccurate, promising that a correction would be made the following night on the show, they left that up to Hosking himself and it was as clear as mud.

There was no real apology. Hosking made it sound like the Māori Party were the confused ones in this situation and he was in fact making astute political commentary.

This thing is Mike Hosking is Mike Hosking. I will now prepare to hand in my Twitterati card and say he’s the face of two prime time media vehicles for two reasons: Many, many people agree with his point of view, and it is important to have a variety of voices on our airwaves. Sometimes he does say what others are thinking and while it’s not necessarily right (he doesn’t help his case by being a Maserati-driving, devil’s advocate with a devil may care swagger and ego to boot) disagreeing with someone or even finding their point of view loathsome is not enough to have them yanked off the air or punished for that.

It wasn’t just an opinion from Hosking, it was a factually inaccurate statement about our electoral system.

I have very little time for ‘generic outrage’ as one of my favourite Twitter people said to me this week. I have worked in the corporate sector and been involved in corporate media partnerships. I am pragmatic to the point of pig-headed belligerence sometimes and I don’t like slacktivism, tweetstorms, pile-ons, calls for advertiser boycotts or online petitions. I think many issues are too nuanced to be nutted out via soundbites in the media or comment threads on social media. Hell, I even watch Seven Sharp from time to time. I don’t think I’m any kind of special for being like this, it’s just my world view, but it does throw Hosking’s latest gaffe and TVNZ’s impotent response into sharp relief for me.

The difference with this incident is that it wasn’t just an opinion from Hosking, it was a factually inaccurate statement about our electoral system, followed by further muddying of the water. While it’s not Frank Underwood-level vote tampering, it will have influenced people and to leave it as it currently stands is anti-democracy. That show has a big viewership and even if it’s in name only nowadays, it airs on the flagship channel of the state broadcaster who still play a big role in how people come to understand the world around them.

People I spoke to this week admitted to not knowing they could party-vote for the Māori Party and as co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said last Thursday after TVNZ’s weak statement: “You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube."

As easy as it is to direct anger at Mike Hosking in this matter, I believe the brunt of it should be borne by TVNZ. The election is no doubt big business for the network given how much airtime is dedicated to and sold on the back of it, and you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

If TVNZ truly wishes to restore some faith in its status as a member of the time-honoured fourth estate, it should properly clarify the issue by dedicating a minute of Seven Sharp to explaining MMP to people every week until the election.

Hosking is still an employee and managing his bungling of this is not about being forced to apologise for his views in the face of lots of mean Facebook posts, but about correcting a factual error and the misrepresentation of how our electoral system works.

I also don’t think they should yank Hosking from moderating the Election debates. The role is that of ringmaster. The debates are political theatre, not political process and arguments over whether Hosking should host the debate are just politics of personality.

If TVNZ truly wishes to restore some faith in its status as a member of the time-honoured fourth estate, it should properly clarify the issue by dedicating a minute of Seven Sharp to explaining MMP to people every week until the election.

We do not have compulsory civics education in this country and the media is often how we come to understand our role as citizens in a democracy so I see no reason TVNZ can’t assume the role of teacher for a few minutes over the coming weeks.

They should also do a Google search and revisit some of their previous apologies allowing that muscle memory to kick in and issue a formal apology to the Māori Party in a manner befitting a state broadcaster - one that’s not only beholden to commercial realities but to its responsibilities as an influential player in New Zealand’s democratic process.

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