Pay-for-play accusation as Māori TV offers mayoral candidates $500 interview

An Auckland mayoral candidate has reacted furiously to an advertising approach from Māori Television, which he says was a pay-for-play offer of coverage. Alex Braae reports. 

UPDATE: Māori Television has responded with an official statement, which can be read in full below.

Craig Lord, a long-shot candidate for the Auckland mayoralty, has described an advertising offer from Māori Television as inappropriate, and close to “extortion.”

In an email provided to The Spinoff, Lord was told by Multi Platform / Content Producer George Ngatai that “Māori TV are offering the opportunity for Mayoral Candidates to be interviewed informing our viewers as to why they should be voting for you in the local body elections.”

Lord, who has criticised other news outlets for not covering his campaign, said what rankled him was being asked to pay $500 plus GST for the privilege.

“It’s difficult to come up with the right words for what I think of this approach. The word fraudulent comes to mind even though its not a con as such. Maybe it’s a bribe as they are clearly offering favours to someone that pays. In my eyes it is clearly not an advertising offer.”

The interview would be conducted “by one of our hosts and played live from midday 30 September 2019”, Ngatai’s email said. It would not necessarily play on Māori Television itself, as the primary outlet for it would be the broadcaster’s online channels, such as their website and Facebook page.

However, clips from the interview could eventually have made their way into news broadcasts, according to the email. “This could then be picked up by our evening news team and replayed across the network over the day which from our programming team is played over 5 times in one day.”

A spokesperson for Auckland mayor Phil Goff’s re-election campaign confirmed it had been given the same offer.

THE FULL EMAIL SENT TO CRAIG LORD AND SEVERAL OTHER MAYORAL CANDIDATES

When contacted, Ngatai disagreed with the assertion that the offer was an exchange of payment for coverage. “It was just giving them an opportunity to advertise with us”, he said, describing it as “more an infomercial type opportunity.”

He said “about two or three” candidates in the Auckland mayoralty race have expressed interest in the offer so far. “Obviously what we want to do is make sure it’s all fair, because normally there’s a focus on one or two candidates, and that’s not we want to do. We want to be fairer to allow people the opportunity to speak as well, or also look at advertising for their campaign.”

“What we’ve done is said to them look, here’s the focus, what we’re wanting to focus on is what you’re going to be contributing, and encouraging Māori voters to get in behind you, support you, that kind of thing. We’ve got an audience that want to engage with it, and we’re providing that opportunity via our website and online.”

The business end of the local election period is fast approaching, with voting now open, and preliminary results coming out on October 12.

In recent years the wall between editorial and advertising content has broken down somewhat across New Zealand’s media landscape. Almost all commercial media outlets offer advertising clients some form of sponsored content – including, for the purposes of full disclosure, The Spinoff.

This situation is comparatively unusual for two reasons. Firstly, Māori Television is a state-owned and funded broadcaster, with advertising during some of its programming. A recent report into the Māori media sector found that Māori organisations tend to struggle much more for funding and resources than others in New Zealand.

The other difference is that while most commercial media outlets would run advertising paid for by candidates during an election race, it would be highly unusual for that advertising to be presented in any way that might indicate to audiences that it was editorial content.

Ngatai said that at the start of the interviews, which would only be broadcast in full online, introductions would make it clear that it was paid for. He stressed that the editorial department would make their own decisions on whether or not to take clips from the interviews for their news reports.

However, for candidates the major value in taking up the opportunity would be in getting their quotes into news bulletins broadcast on TV, both because the audience is much larger, and on the more amorphous grounds of the legitimacy conferred by flagship news programmes.

Māori Television responds:

Māori Television acknowledges the actions in this instance are inappropriate and fall well short of the organisation’s editorial standards.

“We take our role as an independent broadcaster seriously. The staff member has erred in this instance and we apologise for the misunderstanding the approach has caused,” says a spokesperson for Māori Television.

Māori Television is unable to comment further as this is now an employment matter.


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