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TVNZ’s Sunday will end in May after 22 years on air (Image: Tina Tiller)
TVNZ’s Sunday will end in May after 22 years on air (Image: Tina Tiller)

MediaMarch 8, 2024

From Gloriavale to Gaza: Vital stories we’d never know if it weren’t for TVNZ’s Sunday

TVNZ’s Sunday will end in May after 22 years on air (Image: Tina Tiller)
TVNZ’s Sunday will end in May after 22 years on air (Image: Tina Tiller)

The long-running investigative news show will come to a close in May, bringing to an end more than two decades of high impact stories.

It’s been confirmed that TVNZ’s news show Sunday will end in May, making the end of primetime investigative journalism on our screens. 

“As their meeting has concluded I can confirm that a proposal has been presented which could result in the cancellation of Sunday,” said a spokesperson for the national broadcaster. “As other meetings are ongoing, I cannot comment further at this stage.”

It’s been reported that Sunday, along with Fair Go and TVNZ’s late night news bulletin, will be pulled off the air in just two months time – earlier than the expected end of Newshub – and staff were told of the news today during closed doors meetings. Dozens of journalists and producers are set to lose their jobs. The fate of the youth-oriented Re: News platform remains to be seen, but it is anticipated that job losses will come from there as well. 

Fair Go is an institution, but it’s the end of Sunday that hurts the most in a quickly dissolving media landscape. While other shows have come and gone – like Three’s short-lived 3rd Degree – Sunday has been a current affairs fixture on free to air since 2002. Over the years, it has ensured that important and otherwise unreported stories were given airtime. 

Former prime minister Helen Clark called the news “disgraceful”, Labour leader Chris Hipkins urged action from the government, while journalists from other outlets have expressed shock and upset at the move.

It’s no secret that long form journalism is expensive and time consuming, but Sunday’s impact has consistently permeated far beyond its evening weekend time-slot.

Here are just a few highlights from two decades of TVNZ’s Sunday. 

The golden mile

Described by The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive as a “bombshell” piece of investigative journalism “so powerful it bends the entire news agenda to address it”.

This 2022 investigation by Kristin Hall took an unprecedented look at the state of homelessness along the main stretch of Rotorua. It showed how the country’s homelessness crisis had reached a critical boiling point through the use of motels as emergency accommodation. 

As noted by Greive at the time, the investigation, which ran for about 30 minutes, was almost more of a short documentary than a segment from a current affairs show. 

Photo: TVNZ / Design: Archi Banal

But perhaps most crucially, the story didn’t just air on a Sunday nights and then vanish. It generated multiple follow-up reports from across all major news networks, and prompted government intervention. A month later, every Rotorua mayoral hopeful, most prominently the eventual winner Tania Tapsell, focused their campaigns heavily on the issue of homelessness as a result of this investigation. 

The Gaza Strip in 2002

Sunday’s first ever story of its first ever episode – and the first time a New Zealand crew had been allowed into the Gaza Strip.

The award-winning story looked at Palestinian suicide bombers and the families left behind after terror attacks. “This was the start of a journey which would take us to the occupied Bank and Gaza in search of answers as to why someone… could be driven to turn herself into a human bomb,” said former Sunday reporter Cameron Bennett. This story might be 22 years old but it’s still particularly relevant today.

Reflecting on his time with the programme, including as host, in 2022, Bennett said: “I feel very fortunate to have been part of that golden era. The Sunday lens was wide.”

Agenda-setting access to Gloriavale

Everyone knows about Gloriavale now, but in 2007 it was far more of a mystery. “Everywhere we turned we were gob-smacked by the bizarre way of life,” said reporter Janet McIntyre, reflecting on her time reporting at the commune. “Mass prayer rituals, women consigned to silence and subservience, large families living in cramped quarters, young children in regimented work programmes.”

Sunday gained exclusive access to the shady leader of the cult, Hopeful Christian, and McIntyre said she was shocked he chose to sit down with her. McIntyre described having to wear a full-length dress in order to be allowed in, and recalled being labelled a “prostitute” for wearing make-up in the commune.

In the years since, the treatment of those living at Gloriavale has been more widely scrutinised, with serious allegations levelled at those in positions of power.

The 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack

A show like Sunday usually involves months of intense planning before an investigation can go to air. But in 2019, days after the terror attack on two Christchurch mosques, Sunday’s team went to air with a show pulled together in two days.

“That night we gave Kiwis a raw, intense snapshot of what had happened in the chaotic hours following the terrorist attack,” reporter Jehan Casinader, who had been sent to cover the events in Christchurch, said. 

“Sunday isn’t just about facts – we put real people at the centre of our stories and help them to connect with the audience. The terrorist attack was a once-in-a-decade story that will leave a mark on us for years to come.”

The Rainbow Warrior bomber

In 2015, John Hudson scored an exclusive interview with Jean-Luc Kister, the man who planted the bombs that sank the Rainbow Warrior 30 years earlier.

“Many times I think about these things because, for me, I have an innocent death on my hands,” Kister said during the interview, in which he also described the operation as a failure. ”For us it was just like using boxing gloves in order to crush a mosquito. It was a disproportionate operation, but we had to obey the order, we were soldiers.”

Reflecting on his time with Kister, Hudson said: “He told me he had been involved in many special operations over the years but sinking the Rainbow Warrior was the only one he truly regretted… Jean-Luc was impressive – softly spoken with steely blue eyes and in 2015, still active in the French military.”

Some of the Sunday team from 2022 (Image: TVNZ)

Lake Alice Hospital 

A three-part investigation into the Lake Alice psychiatric facility and Dr Selwyn Leeks who subjected child patients at the hospital to electric shock therapy without anaesthetic as punishment. This 2007 story, which involved hidden camera interviews with Dr Leeks, would help raise awareness of serious abuse at the facility.

It would take until just this year for survivors to receive an apology.

Lake Alice

An unprecedented visit to North Korea

Few people, let alone journalists, ever have the opportunity to step foot in North Korea. But, in 2018, the Sunday team visited. 

“It took 18 months for Sunday producer Louisa Cleave, cameraman Martin Anderson and me to gain the necessary permissions to travel there to film a group of NZ birdwatchers tracking down migratory godwits,” recalled journalist Mark Crysell for Sunday’s 20th anniversary programme.

It may not have been as agenda-setting as some of the other historic Sunday pieces, but the fact alone of being able to visit North Korea with a full crew is worth remembering. “When we finally arrived, it felt like we’d been sealed inside a Tupperware container,” Cyrsell said. “We were filming in some of the most sensitive and remote parts of a country that is considered a rogue nuclear state, places where no foreigner had ever been.”

The final Paul Holmes interview

A powerful argument for longform interviewing on television. It’s so rare these days to see time being devoted to a one-on-one interview with a single subject, at least in New Zealand. In 2013, two weeks before he died, Sir Paul Holmes was awarded a knighthood and granted his last ever interview to Sunday reporter Janet McIntyre. 

A full 20 minutes was dedicated to the wide-ranging interview, where Holmes was brutally honest in answering probing questions about his controversial career. Maybe it’s just because I’m a media geek, but I distinctly remember watching this interview as a teen in awe.

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