Stuff’s Pou Tiaki editor Carmen Parahi has been recognised for efforts stretching back 15 years to help brothers George and Damien Nepata in their struggle with the Defence Force.
On Thursday, Parahi was named as winner of the Best News Story in English in the 2020 Massey University Ngā Kupu Ora Māori Journalism Awards.
She first started covering the plight of the brothers in 2004, while she was working for what was then called TV3, and it was one of the main issues she wanted to pursue when she joined Stuff three years ago.
Older brother George broke his neck when he was dropped 3-4 metres during a live stretcher carry across an obstacle course in Singapore in 1989.
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Five years later, the Scorpion tank Damien was driving in Waiouru rolled and caught on fire. He was burnt and still carries physical scars to 40 per cent of his body.
When George was in the Burwood spinal unit unable to move, he was discharged from the Defence Force. Damien found out he’d been discharged when he noticed his wages had stopped being paid.
They felt abandoned by the Defence Force after the accidents, and in 1996 they began a long and taxing battle with their former employer.
Finally, in August 2020, George received a six-figure payout and a Defence Force apology, while Damien received a personal apology from Defence Minister Ron Mark.
Awards judge Mereana Hond, who is an executive producer with Al Jazeera in Qatar, commended Parahi for her “impeccable journalism”.
”This investigation began in 2004 and you helped deliver justice for these two brothers and their whanau 16 years later,” Hond said.
“Their trust and your connection to them came through in a beautifully written print feature. It was also stunning to see them in photos and hear from them in a beautifully shot and edited video. He rawe!”
Parahi didn’t want to take any credit herself for the outcome of the brothers’ case, instead highlighting the role of journalism in helping reach a resolution.
Breakfast co-host Jenny-May Clarkson began tearing up as she spoke to Pou Tiaki editor Carmen Parahi about Māori representation in media and Stuff’s Our Truth, Tā Mātou Pono initiative.
The pursuit of the issue in the public arena had been a constant reminder to the Defence Force that it had to answer the questions being raised, she said.
“Without us pushing and pushing [Defence Minister] Ron Mark and the Defence Force, by all the journalism we committed to their story, we were able to help this in the right direction, particularly for George, although I am disappointed for Damien,” she said.
“I love that they (the brothers) trusted me with their story, and the fact they were putting themselves out there really says a lot about them. They were always doing it to help other people, so the things they had experienced would not happen to other people.”
The Defence Force put George and Damien and their families “through hell”, Parahi said.
She was not confident the struggle had improved the culture of the Defence Force. “I discovered it does depend on the personnel at the time, which I don’t think is very positive.”
But she hoped the Defence Force understood it needed to do better for its injured personnel. “I believe they have taken it on board because we made the story so public, and the brothers were so public about what happened to them it made the Defence Force try to do better for their personnel,” Parahi said.
“But I think they’ve got a long way to go.”
Massey University said the award judges were thrilled with the quality of the entries, but were dismayed too few of the Māori news stories made prime time. That failing had serious implications for the accuracy of who and what was reflected back to the mainstream.
Hond said Māori journalists should not have to fight to get their stories before the national audience.
“The blockage is around news values and practices. If we are to effect real change, we need to see producers and publishers valuing Māori journalism,” she said.
Massey University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Māori, Professor Meihana Durie said the apology made by Stuff last week to Māori – for the prejudiced, inequitable, nature of its historic coverage – suggested a watershed moment for not only Māori journalism, but media more broadly.
Moana Maniapoto from Māori Television’s Te Ao with Moana was named the Supreme Award Winner for her interviews with Teina Pora and David Tamihere against the backdrop of the newly established Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Kereama Wright from Māori Television was named the winner of Best News Story in Te Reo Māori for his exclusive into the rebranding of a mongrel mob chapter.
The Current Affairs in Te Reo Māori category was awarded to Whatitiri Te Wake, TVNZ for his story on the tikanga around Māori male hairstyles.
Te Tohu a Tanara Whairiri Kitawhiti Ngata, Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded posthumously to Dr Huirangi Waikerepuru.