Thursday, 26 April 2012

Where was the follow-up?

I thought my first true post for the By Microwave blog would be about the race relations debate which screened on Close Up this week. It had obviously struck a nerve with me but as I pottered around home doing a few chores this morning I got to thinking.

Since Close Up screened the story about Wikatana Popoto and the debate that followed there has been a crazy level of response to it. Much of it I agreed with, some I didn’t, but I have come to see that what I personally think about it will not add to the conversation. I simply have my opinion and that is that, I am not sure if there is anything that will change it too much and while I did find some of the information about Ansell’s beliefs interesting I have realised that news consumers are already engaging in the discussion about it and so I have decided to take this post in a different direction.

I want this blog to inform and inspire. Its purpose, and therefore focus, should not be about commenting on the issue itself (although, I imagine, there is no getting away from that part of it) but to discuss whether the treatment by the media was appropriate, enlightening, fair and balanced, fulfilling, needed, expected etc.

This got me thinking about Mihi Puriri. A Northland mother of Maori descent, Puriri was the woman who travelled to Algeria with her husband Mohamed Azzaoui and their three children last August. Their intention was to visit Azzaoui’s father, who was said to be terminally ill, and spend a family holiday in Algeria.

However that turned out not to be the case and last month Puriri and her husband, who is a boxer of some talent that was born in Algeria but has lived in New Zealand for more than a decade, were thrust into the spotlight when a story about a Kiwi diplomat’s attempted rescue hit the headlines.

The story was sensational and that quote, well, you couldn’t ask for more.

But where were the follow up stories? Apart from a story about Welton’s position being made redundant the issue didn’t seem to move forward over the past few weeks as I would normally have expected.

That was until Monday night when Maori Television screened a story on their Native Affair’s programme that finally featured Puriri and gave a bit more of an insight into the situation.

The interview with Puriri was conducted via skype and a little stunted but it was obvious that this was not a clear cut situation.  Reporter Annabelle Lee Harris also interviewed two of the Puriri’s aunties who are based in Australia and co-ordinating support for their niece.

It was clear through the interview with Puriri and her aunties that the family believed Welton’s attempt to support their whanaunga had had a negative effect on the situation.

It was also mentioned that so far the family had spent $100,000 supporting Puriri in her bid to get her children back or at the very least get to see them – they’re only babies after all and she, like most mums, believe they need their mother.

Issues around custody battles are often complex, particularly when it stretches across international borders, and I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field but the question I was left wondering is: does the New Zealand Government have a responsibility to this New Zealand uri and her children?

The fact that Welton had said she was “not leaving this building without my citizens" implied that she was working in her official capacity as a Kiwi diplomat. If this is the case then shouldn’t the question be put to the Government about their expectations of overseas deployments when acting as diplomats and what are they doing to help Puriri especially given one of their employees had made a bad situation worse.

I was therefore left wondering why was the Native Affairs programme the first time we had heard from Puriri and the family, in any depth, since the initial reporting of their situation. I mean, again, where were the follow-up stories?

I couldn’t help but wonder why a newspaper hadn’t backgrounded the story. I am old school and like to read about an issue, I enjoy feature-length articles and thought it surely was worth a backgrounder in some newspaper?  Maybe I missed it, there is a lot of media to consume out there, and would appreciate the heads-up if I have but it has been four days since Native Affairs screened the story and there are still more questions I would like to know the answers to – what about you?

If you want to follow Mihi’s journey or donate to help her out visit her webpage


  1. Hi Karla. I agree. I was asking the same question to myself as well. Why has it taken so long to get a story of some depth on this matter?

    I don't think fingers can be necessarily pointed at media though. The Northern Advocate filed several stories with follow-up in late Feb - early March. Then nothing.

    I would suggest a likely reason why there's been potted media coverage is because the information flow is being strictly controlled, either by the family and/or with the support of support advocates. That's fine, like anyone else, they are perfectly entitled to do that.

    Still, that doesn't excuse a lack of simple fact-checking from media.

    What I have found disturbing is the continual change of the basic facts of what's happened. For example, it was first reported the husband, Mohamed Azzaoui, had burnt the passports of his wife and children. That has since evolved into the view that he 'hid' the passports.

    Some real scrutiny of the story as being told by the mother's family would probably help too. Not solely for balance purposes either - but more for the sake of the public as an audience. The family are actively appealing to the public for financial support. Again, that's fine. But the public deserves transparency. Granted, it's tough for NZ media to do that, what with the story being 'live' a whole (literally) world away in Algeria. But it would be relatively simple to dig deeper up North and see what's turned up. Talking to Mihi Puriri's parents might be a good place to start.


  2. Kia ora BK,

    Thank you so much for your comment. Yes you are right The Northern Advocate, has filed several stories on the matter and it is a fine commmunity paper but what I would really like is for there to be a national focus on this story because, personally, I believe that it is what it deserves. And you are perhaps right about the control of the release of information. Speaking from someone who know it is not always easy to convince people to part with personal information for such a public thing but the fact that Annabelle Lee Harris was able to identify and track Mihi's whanau shows that if the effort was put in then perhaps there would be a result. Only time will tell but you are again right about Mihi's parents - I, too, would like to hear from them and I can only hope that one of the country's major newspapers picks up this story. I think Mihi and her family could do a bit of support.

    Nga mihi.

  3. Hi Karla, certainly this story deserves investigation into the role government can play (if any) into international custody disputes. Some comment from a legal expert would be great to give audiences greater context.

    I didn't see the Close Up IV with Ansell. Not sure what's motivating him to speak out now. Perhaps he saw it as an opportunity to drag race relations back onto the agenda of a right-wing party and score another marketing contract (similar to the iwi/kiwi one he had with the Nats in 2005). When it comes to IVs with media-savvy talent you always get great headline-grabber quotes. Little else though.

  4. BK, you've said "What I have found disturbing is the continual change of the basic facts of what's happened. For example, it was first reported the husband, Mohamed Azzaoui, had burnt the passports of his wife and children. That has since evolved into the view that he 'hid' the passports."

    Ok, Mohamed either "burnt" the passports or "hid" the passports. I think I read one story where he "ripped up" the passports. Okay I will allow you 1 point for that inconsistency between what has been reported. Is it the first time that stories haven't been consistent in their reporting or that someone has been misreported? Is this point alone so critical that it undermines the whole of Mihi's or her family's position? If for you it does then it is a pity that you have got stuck on a minor detail and there is no point in reading further.

    What were the other 'continual change of the basic facts' that you refer to? You seem to be a stickler for detail, so what else concerns you about the basic facts as represented?

    Goodness gracious after my sister Wikitoria and myself gave the interview to Maori TV we read a transcript from a TV3 News report apparently based on what we had said. It didn't take long before Wikitoria and myself jumped onto that to have the comments moderated because they were plain wrong. Someone had done far too much extrapolation of what we had said to the interviewer and turned it into something we definitely did not say!

    I am the nominated family representative/spokesperson for Mihi Puriri. I am Mihi's paternal aunt. I also spearheaded the intervention to extricate Mihi and the children from the Azzaoui apartment up to the point that the NZ diplomats intervened and interfered with our plan. I remain Mihi's nominated representative due to all the supports that I organised on Mihi's behalf to maintain her there in Algeria and due to my detailed knowledge of Mihi's situation from the beginning of this year. If anyone is interested in this part of the story then I am the family member to speak to about this.

  5. May I also clarify that prior to the intervention of the NZ diplomats Barbara Welton and David Strauchan this was not a 'custody matter'. Mohamed had not been in Algeria for some months as he had effectively abandoned his wife and children to the supervision of his parents and siblings. This was of course following the confiscation of Mihi's and the children's passports. (Is 'confiscation' a contradiction to 'being hid', 'burnt' or 'ripped up'? )

    This only became an international custody matter following the debacle at Mostaganem, occasioned by the involvement of these diplomats. Naturally after the failed 'welfare check' by Barbara Welton, Mohamed hightailed it back to Algeria. That's when it transformed into a 'custody' matter.

    I have asked to input into the Government's inquiry re this matter as my involvement was fairly central to things at the time, but if a lack of response is an indication of the Government's position then you can say that they aren't interested in the family perspective of what occurred. Not even Mihi gets a say!

  6. Hello Hinemoa, I never said or implied these inconsistencies undermine your family's position on this matter. It's simply lazy reporting. Just like how TVNZ reported that your niece had been separated from her husband for the past 10 years. Go back and take a look at Karla's introduction to this blog. It's to focus on how media are approaching stories. You ask whether or not this is the first time a story has been misreported. Sadly no - and it's unlikely to be the last either.

    Thank you for telling me that you are an official spokesperson for Mihi. I would like to ask this question: has Mihi applied to the courts in Algeria for custody / divorce? Or are the negotiations taking place at an informal level with the aim of allowing the children to return to NZ with her?

  7. Apologies BK. I'm tired and this is taking a toll. Probably over defensive too as there is a lot of undermining going on behind the scenes which we have to actively manage. In answer to your question: Mihi has just filed papers for custody. Divorce has been discussed but I'm not sure where this is at yet. Unfortunately Mohamed has shown no capacity to negotiate athough he is in a real bind. He hates Algeria and doesn't want to remain there but is unable to leave whilst Mihi is there. So he is effectively trapped. My reading of the situation is that his parents are clinging on to the children like they are their own and won't allow Mohamed to do anything which potentially weakens their grip on them. Our priority is to reunite the children with their mother, their primary care giver. Maybe later on to negotiate with Mohamed a compromise on where both parties choose to live so they can both play an active role in the children's upbringing.

  8. Hi Hinemoa, aroha mai. No need to apologise. I completely understand. I am a stickler for ensuring good, quality journalism. I do not like seeing people's stories (especially stories like this) being inadequately treated by media. Your family's story deserves more respect. Native Affairs demonstrated respect on Monday night. Hopefully more will follow.

    Nga mihi mahana nui, BK

    1. BK, thank you so much. I love the fact that you get the concept of this blog and I am delighted to find another person who wants good quality journalism. I look forward to further interactions as we continue on this journey.

      Mauri ora,

    2. Hi Karla, no problem. Keep up the good work. BK

    3. Actually forgot to add. In my view, Hinemoa's response to my question is probably one of the things that should have been published already. It's exposition aka context, which is what's needed so this story keeps its legs.

  9. This is a post I made on Facebook on the Bring Mihi Puriri and children home page (if you haven't yet visit the site and like it) in response to some of the points raised on the social networking site and also on thise blog. Thank you so much to those who have contributed their thoughts, it is very inspiring... anyway:

    Kia ora Wikitoria, Hinemoa me o whanau whanui,

    Thank you very much for the facebook responses and the comments on the blog post, I really appreciate you taking the time out to do this. Sorry it has taken me a little time to respond but I wanted to ensure that my response was structured rather than dashing of a quick garbled message (I do have a way of being an over-exuberant ranter but effective communication is important to me).

    Anyway, firstly I would like to say I can understand that this is an intensely personal situation for Mihi and your whanau and, yes, if there was any other way I am sure that this is not the way you would have wanted this to be dealt with. My heart goes out to you all for this, it is never easy putting yourself out there in such a public way. And while I am naturally curious my focus was not to force your whanau to speak out, especially if they are really not comfortable with that, but to pose the question as to why major media outlets have not put things to the Government. It is my personal belief that the Government have let you and your whanaunga down and the fact that it has been described as feeling abandoned by Murray McCully seems to support this further.
    It is great that you, Hinemoa, have been nominated as a family spokesperson this will help co-ordinate the release of information and perhaps keep it on-track. From your descriptions of some of the media dealings you have already had I can see that you have not been entirely satisfied. It is a strange situation when you have to deal with the media and unfortunately there is not unlimited time and space to include every detail. When putting together a story he job of the reporter is to weigh up what is important and what could be left out (and perhaps highlighted at a later date) and this sometimes means that it isn’t exactly how you thought it would be but I encourage you that if you feel you were completely misquoted to contact the media outlet and notify them of your concern. It is the only way that we will get better is if we demand better.
    Also the reason why I have not asked the Reunite questions directly is because my purpose with the blog post was to explore why it was not being covered by the national media. The personal element, while heartbreaking and emotional, is just that personal. What I want to know is what is New Zealand going to do about it and for that I think it needs light shed on it - whether that includes whanau comment is up to you and yours but it certainly needs a response from the Government because it is about keeping them accountable. I am hopeful that others will be inspired to ask questions particularly of the Government and demand answers. While we can do this as individuals I believe a collective approach is better and I think this is one of the responsibilities of the media.
    But yes, even though it was by her choice Mihi has made a stand that highlights a situation many of us may not understand. It is amazing that some of Algerian women are prepared to provide legal statements for her. From an outsiders point of view, hearing that highlights that this may be bigger than a custody battle between two parents. Your niece is a strong woman and much love to her. I am glad to hear that there may still be a way to reach an amicable resolution between her and the children’s father but that is for them to work through and you are right New Zealand doesn’t really need to go prying into that but I can only hope that the Government will support you and your whanau because this is a tough situation that no one wants to be in.
    Ma te atua e manaaki, e tiaki.
    Nga mihi nunui