ACT Party's boycott of RNZ's Morning Report caused by host comparing one of its policies to eugenics

David Seymour and his ACT MPs haven't appeared on RNZ's Morning Report since October 2020.
David Seymour and his ACT MPs haven't appeared on RNZ's Morning Report since October 2020. Photo credit: RNZ / Newshub.

ACT leader David Seymour and the rest of his party's MPs have refused to appear on RNZ's Morning Report for the last 14 months because one of their policies was likened to eugenics, it's been revealed.

A remark was made by host Susie Ferguson in a discussion about ACT's proposed changes to welfare ahead of last year's general election, prompting a complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) from the party's director of communications, Rachel Morton.

During the October 2, 2020 segment about children living in poverty, Ferguson asked ACT's Nicole McKee why the party argued the country couldn't continue to have so many children born to a benefit.

"Does that not smack of eugenics?" Ferguson asked.

The term 'eugenics' refers to the selection of desired heritable characteristics in order to improve future generations, and is often associated with Nazi Germany.

Morton's complaint against RNZ over the comment was not upheld. The BSA in April 2021 found no breaches of its guidelines for Good Taste and Decency, Balance, Accuracy or Fairness, and said the ACT Party was "treated fairly in the context of the debate".

But Morton told Newshub on Thursday the comment was the final straw for the party, and since then, no ACT MPs have appeared in live interviews for the show.

Newshub has reached out to RNZ for comment.

The boycott first came to light on Thursday morning, after The Spinoff published an interview with Seymour in which he described Morning Report as rude, selective and dishonest about what they wanted to talk about.

"After the umpteenth time that I went on their show out of a feeling of public duty and was belittled and abused with all their snarkiness, I just thought, 'I don't need this,'" he said.

But he told The Spinoff that the "really toxic and comically Lilliputian culture of Morning Report" was different from the rest of RNZ, and ACT MPs would happily appear on the station's other shows.

Morton told Newshub ACT MPs still also appear in pre-recorded interviews that are played as part of Morning Report's news bulletins.

While Seymour was happy for his party to ditch Morning Report, he decried Jacinda Ardern's decision to do much the same thing earlier this year, when she pulled out of her weekly slot on Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking Breakfast show.

He said in March the Prime Minister was avoiding answering questions by "de-platforming" herself from the weekly slot.

"Jacinda Ardern will ultimately regret this escalating arrogance, the latest example being cancelling her weekly discussion with Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking," Seymour said.

"It joins a long list of increasingly hubristic moves from the Prime Minister and her Government."

Ardern said the decision was made so she could branch out more to other media outlets, but broadcaster Hosking said in March that Ardern was "running for the hills" and was "over being held to account".

He said he didn't want Ardern back on his show after she cancelled the slot, which had been observed by New Zealand Prime Ministers for more than 30 years.

Often critical of the Government, Hosking said late last year people "misunderstand" his relationship with Ardern and despite often fiery interviews, he actually "likes her a lot". 

"It's our work," Hosking said in December. "It's what we do. There's nothing personal in it."