WALLACE HAUMAHA AGAINST STUFF

Case Number: 2786

Council Meeting: JUNE 2019

Verdict: Not Upheld

Publication: Stuff

Ruling Categories: Accuracy
Balance, Lack Of
Misrepresentation, Deception or Subterfuge
Unfair Coverage

Overview

1. The complainant, Wallace Haumaha, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, takes issue with a story published inThe Dominion Post and online on 26 April 2019.He alleges breaches of Principle 1 Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, and Principle 9 Subterfuge.

Background

2. The complainant’s appointment as the Deputy Commissioner of Police was not without significant controversy.Following his appointment, two female staff members of the police made complaints against Mr Haumaha which in the colloquial would be described as bullying.There was a further complaint from one of the women that the complainant had acted improperly in trying to discredit her. These matters were investigated by an independent inquiry commissioned by Internal Affairs (conducted by Mary Scholtens QC) and the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA).

3. The independent inquiry found complaints from staff about the complainant were minimised by police, but his appointment as Deputy Commissioner remained valid.The IPCA found he humiliated and intimidated the two staffers concerned, but his behaviour fell short of the official definition of bullying.He was found to have acted improperly in trying to discredit one of the women.His behaviour was described by the Prime Minister as “clearly inappropriate” and by the Police Minister as “improper and unprofessional”.As part of these inquiries, an allegation emerged that the complainant in 2004 had “rubbished” rape allegations by Louise Nicholas against three former police officers.

The Background to the Article

4. The experienced reporter concerned sought to interview the complainant who, following the terrorist attack in Christchurch, had been leading the police response to the victims and the Muslim community.There is an exchange of emails in relation to this in which the reporter stated, “I will have to ask Wally about his employment issues during the interview.It’s important to safeguard the integrity of the interview for Wally, the police and myself, to be seen to be asking him.Obviously it’s up to Wally how he will respond.It’s not the focus of the interview because I am genuinely interested in the work in Christchurch (and Te Pae Oranga) but I will have to ask.”The response received from the police media team was that the complainant was happy to speak to the reporter about Christchurch and the work his team did down there but, “he won’t be discussing anything wider than that”, and the reporter was then invited that if she wished to go ahead, they would get back to her with a time for a phone interview.The reporter asked for a time and date of interview, which was set, and a 50-minute interview was conducted by telephone.

The Article

5. The interview led to two stories.The first was an 1800-word feature story on the police response to the Christchurch terrorist attack.It does not feature in this complaint.The second story, in a section labelled ‘Police’, started with the headline “Haumaha refuses to issue apology”.It opens by stating that the complainant had finally addressed the findings of “an employment investigation”.It said that those investigations found he had belittled two women and spread confidential information to “discredit a third”.It goes on to say that since being reinstated in his role the complainant remained unrepentant and refused to apologise over his conduct.



The Complaint

The Article Cont'd


The story then deals with his new role and continues that the complainant was forced to “work remotely” while the two investigations into his behaviour were carried out.The findings of the investigation are then set out and there is reference then to how the behaviour was described by both the Prime Minister and the Police Minister.It goes on then to mention the allegations regarding the Louise Nicholas rape complaint and notes that the complainant said he had nothing further to say on the matter.It goes on to report his statement that he was focused on the important work he was currently doing.The story then reports a response from Louise Nicholas which included complimentary remarks about the work the complainant had done with Māori and ethnic communities, especially since the terrorist attack.It concludes with a statement from National’s police spokesman who described the complainant’s position as untenable.

The Complaint

6. Much is made of the headline, but there appears to be no specific complaint under Principle 6. As noted above, the complaints focus on Principles 1 and 9.Before turning to the specific complaints, it appears the overall position taken by the complainant (through his lawyers) is that the interview was strictly limited to the complainant’s work as the police leader of the team dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist shootings.All else seems to flow from that position.The grounds of complaint are set out in an initial letter to Stuff dated 16 April 2019, and a formal complaint to the Council dated 3 May 2019.The second letter adopts the first as part of the complaint.While relatively similar, there are some differences, and one would have expected all elements of the complaint to have been put forth in the formal complaint to the Council.

7. The first claim is that the reference to “an employment investigation” is incorrect.The complaint alleges that neither the Government inquiry nor the IPCA were the employer of the complainant and that he did not address the findings referred to, nor were they put to him in the interview.It is also said the claim of an in-depth interview is false, as the complainant maintains it was a 49-minute interview, with the first 48 relating to his work leading the team in Christchurch.

8. It is also stated that the complainant never “rubbished” Louise Nicholas’s rape allegations against the former police officers.It seems to be accepted that during 2004 a witness claimed the complainant had told him the complaints were nonsense, but the complainant did not believe he had made that statement and was unaware of it until 2016.He said the person concerned was not someone he would have made such a statement to.Further, the complainant says he did apologise to Louise Nicholas before either of the two inquiries mentioned, understanding the hurt such a report would have caused.The inquirer, Ms Scholtens QC, recorded and accepted he had done so.

9. In relation to subterfuge, the extracts of exchanges between the police media team and the reporter are said to show that the complainant was induced to undertake the interview, and it goes on to state, “it is inconceivable that the author did not intend publishing this beforehand and intended to win for herself a headline at his expense.”

10. The complainant then seeks an apology and an acknowledgement that the article did not reflect the complainant’s responses or views applicable to either the IPCA report or the Government inquiry.He requested the apology should acknowledge the journalist was “expressly informed prior to the interview that such issues would not be addressed by him and that both the headline and some content are clearly misleading and incorrect.”

The Response

The Response

11. On behalf of Stuff, John Hartevelt, Projects Director, denied there had been a breach of either principle.Stuff takes the view that the lawyer’s letter took a highly legalistic and technical approach to language.It points out that in December 2018 the IPCA published a 40-page report relating to the complaints about the complainant.The report sets out the IPCA’s role in receiving and investigating complaints about misconduct or neglect of duty by any police employee.

12. In dealing with the complaint that the complainant was not forced to work remotely, Stuff points out that he did in fact work remotely and no issue is taken from that.Whether or not this was voluntary, as claimed, Stuff says it cannot be separated from the fact of the investigations.

13. Stuff accepted an error in relation to its statement that the complainant acted improperly in trying to discredit a third woman.In fact, that related to his actions involving the first of the two complainants.The IPCA in fact found the complainant, who was acting on legal advice, had improperly approached staff for information to help him, including via another employee.This error was quickly updated online and a clarification published in papers for that story.

14. In relation to the Louise Nicholas rape allegations and what occurred, the independent Government report by Mary Scholtens QC stated “as [Louise Nicholas] explained it to me, DC Haumaha’s statements indicated he supported Mr Shipton, Mr Schollum and Mr Rickards — with references to how great these men were and that everything she, Louise Nicholas, was saying was just absolute nonsense.”That report also cites notes made in 2015 by Deputy Commissioner Mike Clement from a discussion with Nicholas: “She saw him operating like they did.She knows it and he knows it.Others know it.He is demeaning to women.He treats them as second-class citizens.”There is also a reference to a statement from an unnamed detective sergeant to Operation Austin, in which the officer says the complainant told him “how much nonsense it was and how could anyone come out and drag it all up”.In the course of the 2018 investigation the complainant denied making those comments, yet in June he issued a written statement to the media which acknowledged the concerns expressed by Louise Nicholas and others and went on to say that he took responsibility for comments that he deeply regrets, apologises for the hurt and concern they have caused, and they do not reflect his views or values.

15. Stuff says while the complainant may have denied making the statement, that is somewhat contradicted by his apology covering a wide range of matters, but in any event he has not suggested that the statement was not made by the unnamed police detective sergeant.Rather, he just says it is someone he would not have been inclined to make such a revelation to.

16. The further complaint that this is not an in-depth interview, Stuff says is demonstrably wrong, as it was nearly an hour long.It refers to the lead article on the role of the complainant in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attack and, in the article complained of, supplied a hyperlink to that story.

17. Stuff maintains the story was robust but fair and factual.It says, given that this was the complainant’s first interview into two major investigations into his appointment as the Deputy Commissioner, it would have been strange for the reporter not to have asked about those matters.It says the complainant was an experienced and very senior public servant and would have been aware of this.

18. Indeed, Stuff goes further in stating that if there was any unprofessional behaviour, it was that of the complainant.It refers to an exchange with the reporter, who is a Māori journalist, as follows:

Haumaha: I've probably given you an interview others wanted around this story, Carmen.

Parahi: And I appreciate it, I really do.I know how much you've given me. [50-minute interview]

Haumaha:That’s right.From your perspective, you know who I am and you know what sort of person I am.

Parahi: Yes I know.

Haumaha: I would expect the support of some of our Māori journalists, to know what my integrity has been over 35 years in policing.You'd take it from there and form your own opinion.[Stuff emphasis]

Parahi:My opinion of you, Wally, would never appear in these stories anyway.That’s how it should always be.

19. Stuff said this was a failed and regrettable attempt at coaxing a senior reporter into writing a sympathetic story.It is Stuff’s view that the subsequent complaint reflects the complainant’s ongoing anger at the publication of a story that was not to his liking.

20. Stuff takes the view that this is baseless.It says that there is no requirement for a reporter to outline questions they will be asking, but notwithstanding this, the reporter explicitly stated she would be asking about the complainant’s employment issues.It also makes it plain that the comments in the story from Louise Nicholas and Chris Bishop were obtained after the interview with the complainant.

The Decision

The Decision

21. This article needs to be considered in context. The complainant is a very senior and experienced police officer. Complaints were made against him that, while confirming him in his position, were critical. Critical remarks were made by senior politicians including the Prime Minister. He had obviously chosen not to respond to these criticisms despite ongoing public and media interest.

22. There may be some circumstances in which it could be properly said that an interview was limited in such a way the journalist could not ask questions outside a specified area.We do not consider this to be such a case.The reporter made it plain that she would have to ask questions about the employment issues.The police media response was, “As originally agreed, Wally was happy to speak to you about Christchurch and the work his team did down there.He won't be discussing anything wider than that.”

23. That is simply a statement that the complainant would not discuss wider issues.It in no way limits the reporter in the questions she may choose to ask.Nor was any such limitation agreed to by the reporter.The travails of the complainant’s appointment as a Deputy Commissioner excited significant public and media interest.In our view a journalist who failed to explore the effects and the contents of the two reports in the first interview given by the complainant would have been failing in their duty.

24. We think there is nothing in the complaint that it was inaccurate to describe this as an employment investigation.The complaints were received by two women staffers regarding the complainant’s attitude towards them.It is something that occurred in a work setting.In common-day parlance, the investigations that followed were into employment matters.

25. The complainant was asked about the investigation and effectively, as was his right, chose not to respond.That is made clear in the article, and there is no inaccuracy in that.Nor do we think there is anything in the complaint about his working remotely.Whether it was a voluntary decision or not, it is not unreasonable to say that he worked remotely on occasions because of the complaints made against him.

26. Nor do we think it inaccurate to report that an unnamed detective sergeant that the complainant “rubbished” the Louise Nicholas allegations.While Mr Haumaha denied making a comment to anyone to this effect, that is contradicted by the fulsome apology he gave before the Government investigation was commenced.

27. In relation to the headline, it is clear that this refers to the two complaints that led to the investigations.The article reads:

In his first in-depth interview since being re-instated to his role late last year, an unrepentant Haumaha refused to apologise over conduct described by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as "clearly inappropriate".

28. There is one issue around this paragraph, because it is alleged he was never asked if he would apologise to those women, and Stuff does not respond to that.But we would not uphold this as inaccurate, given that the complainant took the line that he was not going to respond to any questions about his employment issues, the investigations and their finding.

29. Clearly the para we have cited relates to no apology being proffered to the two women. We reiterate the context of the article. The complainant had not responded to the criticism of him. He refused in the interview to discuss the matter at all. He could have easily apologised. We are satisfied the headline, while eye-catching, was not misleading. He refused to say anything including proffering an apology which many would think appropriate.

30. The error regarding a third complainant was quickly acknowledged and under Principle 12 we would not uphold it.

31. This was a robust story, the questioning had been signalled and was inevitable given the public and media interest in the matter.We see nothing inaccurate in the story.The complaint against Principle 1 is not upheld.

32. Nor do we see any grounds to uphold Principle 9.The reporter signalled that she would ask questions about the employment issues.The response was that the complainant would not answer any such questions.That was his right.But there was no subterfuge in asking those questions.The lead article shows the primary purpose of the interview was the police response, led by the complainant, into the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attack.But by producing a second story dealing with the employment issues, and by asking questions relating to them, subterfuge never played a part.That complaint is also not upheld.

Media Council members considering the complaint were Sir John Hansen, Rosemary Barraclough, Liz Brown, Craig Cooper, Tiumalu Peter Fa’afiu, Ben France-Hudson, Hank Schouten, Christina Tay and Tim Watkin.

Jo Cribb and Tracy Watkins took no part in the consideration of this complaint.