TVNZ's Sunday turns 20: Remembering the show's biggest stories

Source: 1News

Some stories you see on the news impact not just those involved, but also the story-tellers behind the scenes too.

Families embrace in Christchurch following the March 15, 2019 terrorist attack.

Since 2002, TVNZ's Sunday has reported on the stories that matter in Aotearoa - spending months or even years building relationships and researching important issues to bring in-depth and investigative storytelling to our television screens.

To mark 20 years of the show being on air, Sunday's journalists, producers and camera operators recall what it was like to uncover and share some of New Zealand journalism's biggest stories.

Face to face - 2021

A father's determination to meet one of the men imprisoned for killing his son resulted in a story of revenge, redemption and ultimately, forgiveness.

Sio was gunned down in 2013 in a car park outside some Wellington flats by two Mongrel Mob members looking for a fight. Sio called the ambulance himself but died before he reached hospital - his father's worst nightmare.

At Shane Harrison and Dillin Pakai's trial, Iafeta burned with rage - he wanted revenge. But on the eve of giving his victim impact statement in court he heard his beloved son's voice from beyond the grave, asking him to forgive his killers.

Sunday reporter Tania Page embraces Shane Harrison with a hongi.

Iafeta did, and outside court said he wanted to meet them. Sunday producer Chris Cooke worked to make it happen.

"Over seven years, Chris built a uniquely strong relationship with Iafeta and Shane, bringing me into the process once it seemed likely such a hui would occur," Sunday reporter Tania Page says.

In early 2021 the two men came together with a hongi, making peace with one another - and for Harrison, perhaps making peace with himself.

"I'm not sure Shane and Iafeta would ever have met without Sunday," Page says. "Their trust in us and the persistence of Chris Cooke over years of engaging with Corrections and months of navigating Covid-related delays is a testament to the importance of longform, thoughtful, thorough journalism. It can be life-changing."

Shane Harrison talks to Sunday reporter Tania Page.

"I think about filming the moment a convicted murderer, a Mongrel Mob member, walked into a prison meeting room and apologised to the father who lost his son - a process that was hugely challenging for the mobster as he was confronted by the harm he had caused," adds Cooke.

"It's moments in stories like these I believe show the real power of television - where you are in the middle of something compelling that is unfolding in front of you and you can look a person in the eye and decide how you feel about the honesty of what's being said."

Paradise on Earth - 2007

It was a time when few people had heard of the West Coast cult called Gloriavale.

Few had dared probe its structure. Many of the community's bizarre practices were unknown. Charismatic leader Hopeful Christian - whose hold over 450 people was fearsome and absolute - had never agreed to an interview.

In 2007, Cooke negotiated the first sanctioned and in-depth exploration of life inside Gloriavale. There was only one condition: that reporter Janet McIntyre conform to the community dress code by wearing a full-length dress.

Few had dared to probe Gloriavale's structures until Sunday's Janet McIntyre got a first look at life inside the West Coast cult.

"It was indeed, like stepping on to another planet," says McIntyre, of her week of unfettered access.

"While I kept my ankles covered and people appeared polite, I now know from members who have since left that I was held in contempt. I was attacked for being a woman doing a man's job, instead of being at home raising a family. They were told I was a prostitute because I wore make-up.

"Everywhere we turned we were gob-smacked by the bizarre way of life: mass prayer rituals, women consigned to silence and subservience, large families living in cramped quarters, young children in regimented work programmes.

Janet McIntyre, right, believes Gloriavale leader Hopeful Christian, left, may have regretted agreeing to be interviewed by her.

"I am still amazed that late leader, Hopeful Christian, ever agreed to sit down with me. It was his first and only formal interview and he may have regretted it."

Since Sunday's trailblazing story, Gloriavale's practices have been formally scrutinised, resulting in prosecutions. Hopeful Christian has died, and many families have fled to the "outside" for a chance at independence.

"It is heartening that so many members who've left have gone on to live full and productive lives, benefitting both themselves and their new communities," says McIntrye.

North Korea - A Secret Stopover - 2018

In 2018, Sunday was granted extraordinary access to North Korea - including parts of the country no foreigner had ever been, and to witness an unlikely collaboration that could end up saving the world's migratory shore birds.

"There's a good reason North Korea's known as the Hermit Kingdom," journalist Mark Crysell recalls. "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."

Sunday's Mark Crysell in North Korea in 2018.

"When we finally arrived, it felt like we'd been sealed inside a Tupperware container - instantly shut off from the rest of the world. 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.

"It's easy to get paranoid and claustrophobic in North Korea."

Sunday was granted extraordinary access to understand life inside North Korea in 2018.

But it wasn't all bad.

"There were a couple of hairy moments where we realised the authorities could just disappear us if we overstepped the line but overall, we were well looked after," Crysell says.

"The North Korean kimchi is a delicacy and the local Taedonggang beer is a nice drop. After 10 days however, we were all very happy to land in Beijing, China - we'd never felt so free in our lives."

Black Friday - 2019

Sunday stories usually take weeks of meticulous research, planning, scripting and editing. But once in a while a big story breaks and those plans go out the window.

One Friday afternoon in 2019, journalist Jehan Casinader was about to sneak home early.

"I popped my head into an edit booth, where our executive producer, Jane Skinner, said: 'Have you heard about the shooting?'" he recalls.

There were reports of a fatal attack at a mosque in Christchurch.

"At first, we wondered if this was just a rumour that had been twisted through the grapevine. But very quickly, we realised this was a real, live situation, and we would have to respond to it."

The Sunday team was just finalising that weekend's show, but scrapped it and sent a small team to Christchurch to do a story on the unfolding terrorist attack instead.

"And we had just 48 hours to do it," Casinader says.

Jehan Casinader reporting in Christchurch just hours after the March 15, 2019 terrorist attack.

"I jumped in an Uber, swung past my flat and threw some clothes into a suitcase. On my way to the airport, Jane sent me a text: 'IMPORTANT: The gunman is on the loose - possibly in a silver Subaru Outback. We have video of him shooting as he drives. BE VERY CAREFUL AND AWARE.'"

Once in Christchurch the Sunday team headed to the hospital where families had gathered, desperate to find out whether their loved ones were alive or dead.

"That private moment wasn't captured on camera, but I will never forget the sense of despair and panic in that room," Casinader says.

Sunday producers Cooke and Paul Deady worked hard to find survivors and witnesses willing to speak to the show.

"Back in Auckland two days later, we frantically edited the story and completed it at 6.52pm on Sunday night," barely half-an-hour before it was set to air, Casinader says.

"That night we gave Kiwis a raw, intense snapshot of what had happened in the chaotic hours following the terrorist attack.

"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 story was awarded Best Current Affairs Video at the 2020 Voyager Media Awards.

The Shock Box - 2007

In this three-part story, Sunday told the story of former child patients at Lake Alice Hospital, who wanted Dr Selwyn Leeks held to account for subjecting them to electric shock therapy without anaesthetic as punishment for bad behaviour.

The children, by then adults, told journalist Ian Sinclair that Leeks would leave the door open so they could all hear the terrifying screams of his victims.

When Sinclair knocked on Leeks' door, the unexpected happened - the psychiatrist accused of torture invited him in.

Dr Selwyn Leeks on a hidden camera planted by Sunday in 2007.

"Leeks admitted he used electric shocks on the children for what he called behaviour modification," Sinclair said.

What Leeks didn't know was that the crew was recording his admissions with hidden cameras.

Leeks, who passed away in January this year, was the subject of a recent inquiry into the abuse of children in state care.

"I understand our recordings of Leeks were an important part of that inquiry," Sinclair said. "I hope they find justice."

The Lost Children - 2004

This two-part story about a group of former child inmates of Porirua Hospital who were seeking an inquiry and compensation for alleged physical and mental abuse they endured "was a watershed story for me" Sunday's Miriama Kamo says.

"I was a young reporter… I learned so much from this story, not just as a journalist but as a person - like the vulnerabilities of humanity, how easy it can be to fall into a pattern of abuse and how difficult it can be, as a survivor, to prove it."

Kamo says Porirua Hospital was, like Lake Alice, "a place of horror" for many ex-patients, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s. Former inmates alleged abuse at the hands of the doctors, nurses, staff and other inmates.

"We were particularly interested in the accounts of young people, many of them wards of state, who were placed in Porirua Hospital when the welfare system's beds were full," Kamo says.

Miriama Kamo says she learned so much reporting on the abuse faced by child inmates of Porirua Hospital in 2004.

Children as young as eight were placed in Porirua Hospital, living alongside the country's most seriously mentally ill adults.

"Their claims of abuse were deeply shocking - forced electric shock therapy, beatings, sexual abuse and unnecessary medications to keep them compliant. The trauma of their experiences affected the rest of their lives."

Sunday also did a follow-up story which included the stories of former staff who bravely spoke up about what they witnessed and committed.

"They painted a picture of an environment conducive to breeding abuse - you either joined in or you left," Kamo explained.

"I have often reflected on these stories - how courageous the people we interviewed were, how horrific their stories are, how our country could have allowed these events to occur."

The story earned her Best Reporter of the Year at the Qantas Media Awards.

"It's always felt like a bittersweet honour - especially given how long our interviewees and their fellow claimants have waited for their own victory," Kamo says.

She used a small financial prize from the award to travel to Hokitika where she bought pounamu from a local craftsman, then travelled the country to thank each person in our story and give them a piece.

"It was a way to honour their journey and bind their stories together with pieces from one block of pounamu. They have been on their shared journey for a lifetime. The wheels of justice turn slowly - the story of Porirua Hospital is no better example of that."

Mind of a Martyr - 2002

Sunday's first-ever show featured an award-winning examination of Palestinian suicide bombers - the first time a NZ television crew had ever journeyed into the Gaza Strip.

"The soldiers, the police, the glitter of shattered glass, the mangled shop-fronts on the busy Jaffa Rd - all of it still fresh and raw when we arrived in Jerusalem," reporter Cameron Bennett recalls.

Palestinian refugee Wafa Idris was a volunteer medic traumatised and radicalised by what she'd seen on the frontlines of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On January 27, 2002, the 28-year-old strapped a 10kg bomb to her body and detonated it, killing herself and an old man, and injuring dozens of others.

Cameron Bennett reporting at the Gaza Strip, the first time a NZ television crew had ever journeyed there.

"Wafa was the first female suicide bomber to strike Israel itself - all of it unfolding just a short walk from our hotel," Bennett says.

"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 like her could be driven to turn herself into a human bomb.

"Israelis told us 'don't go into the territories, too dangerous', but within hours of her identity being released, we were off in search of her family home, our rental Ford plastered with makeshift 'TV crew' signs… I'd been in conflict zones before. There isn't the time to adjust, you live on your wits, you don't have a local network of contacts, you're hyper aware and jittery and on you're on your own.

"Then came Gaza, a squalid home to around 2 million people, all of them crammed into a coastal strip measuring just over 350 square kilometres. You don't just drive into Gaza, you literally walk in with what you can carry."

Reporter Cameron Bennett looking for answers as to why someone would turn themselves into a human bomb.

Bennett was invited into the homes of other young men who'd taken the path to martyrdom.

"It's difficult to convey how affecting this was. I expected an angry defence of their boys' actions, clenched fists and bitter hatred. What we discovered making our way from home to home was just how ordinary, how 'human', these families were.

"Not ogres, but people just trying to get by; family people, some religious, some not - bonded through loss and tragedy."

The story led Sunday's first programme and won a Qantas Media Award.

"[It] hopefully enlightened viewers at home about a phenomena that was sending shivers down the spine of the world outside," Bennett said.

Rainbow Warrior - Operation Satanic - 2015

In 1985, John Hudson was in France covering the Rainbow Warrior bombing for TVNZ when the French government admitted it was responsible.

Thirty years later, as the result of outstanding work by Cooke, Hudson got an exclusive interview with Jean-Luc Kister, the frogman who planted the bombs which sank the Greenpeace ship.

"Jean-Luc was impressive - softly spoken with steely blue eyes and in 2015, still active in the French military," Hudson says.

"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."

The sinking Rainbow Warrior ship.

Cooke adds it was "a killing that had sat heavily on his conscience for decades".

Kister took the crew to a cemetery in northern France to show them why.

"Here were the graves of hundreds of Commonwealth airmen shot down during World War II," Hudson recalls.

"'You Kiwis helped liberate France from the Nazis,' he said - this is why the Rainbow Warrior bombing was so wrong."