Ian Sinclair has spent three decades as a reporter for TVNZ, after almost a decade in newspapers and radio. As a television reporter he has visited some of the most intrepid places on the globe, including war reporting in Bougainville, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan — where he found being a Kiwi afforded particular benefits: discount bribes when crossing the border.
While studying for his BA in History at Auckland University, Sinclair began writing music reviews for student paper Craccum. His talents playing Spanish flamenco guitar led him to interview French guitar legend Manitas de Plata, which in turn led to further interviews, including Elton John and Rod Stewart.
Heading to Spain on an OE to follow his passion for guitar, Sinclair experienced life under General Franco’s dictatorship, which played a major role in him pursuing journalism as a career. "Franco’s crackdown on political dissent — which included Nuremburg-style rallies, arrests and executions — awakened my interest in general news journalism."
When he returned to NZ post-OE, Sinclair completed the journalism course at Auckland Technical Institute, then began working for The Taranaki Herald. He spent seven years reporting for The Auckland Star and Radio New Zealand, before joining TVNZ in 1986. His first big story came when he was working for RNZ the previous year: the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.
During his time at TVNZ, Sinclair has reported for Top Half, One News, Holmes and Close Up, been a reporter/presenter for 60 Minutes, and begun his decade plus stint as a correspondent for Sunday. He’s covered four different wars — in Bougainville, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan — and reported from every continent except Antarctica. During three years living in London as TVNZ’s Europe Correspondent, he was one of the few NZ reporters to visit Iraq.
During his time reporting from the Kosovo War in 1999 he won international headlines, while reporting with cameraman Brett Stanton. One night 38,000 refugees were forced across the Albanian border. Stanton and Sinclair were the only journalists on hand. “When the world woke up to their disappearance the next morning, Brett and I were the only crew with the exclusive shots. They were seen by more than one billion people worldwide.”
In 2007, as a Sunday correspondent, Sinclair won the Qantas Media Award for Best Current Affairs Reporting, for an investigation into the corruption scandal involving Labour MP Taito Phillip Field. Field was alleged to have had low cost building work done on a number of properties he owned in New Zealand and Samoa, in exchange for helping people with their immigration applications to NZ. Field was eventually sentenced to six years in prison, although he continues to protest his innocence. He was released for good behaviour in 2011.
It wasn't Sinclair’s first award. In 1986 he was a joint winner of the Sir David Beattie Journalism Award for his RNZ coverage of the Rainbow Warrior bombing. After a handful of Qantas Media Awards in the 90s, he won the Asia 2000 award for Broadcast Journalism, for his coverage of the Kosovo War. In 2009 he took home a Qantas Television gong for Investigation of the Year — for a story on Dr Roman Hasil, who botched procedures on eight Kiwi women, and terrorised his ex-wife — and was a finalist for Journalist of the Year.
In 2015 Sinclair and producer Steve Butler launched a controversial investigation into the mistreatment of bobby calves in the local dairy industry. The Sunday report alleged that calves on NZ dairy farms were being mistreated, and included video footage recorded by animal rights organisations Farmwatch and SAFE. The report gained national attention, with the Ministry for Primary Industries immediately launching an investigation after the report screened. This came after Sinclair's investigation into pig farming in 2009, which saw comedian and ex pork industry promoter Mike King speaking out about factory farming.
Away from journalism, Sinclair continues to practise and hone his craft as a flamenco guitarist. He has studied under renowned Spanish player Juan del Gastor, and was the winner of in-house talent show TVNZ’s Got Talent in 2012.
Profile written by Simon Smith
'Ian Sinclair' TVNZ website. Loaded 6 December 2004. Accessed 15 June 2016
'Sunday May 17: Comic tackles pig welfare' (Documentary item on Sunday programme) Producer Dale Owens (TVNZ, 2009)
'MPI works on bobby calf issue' Ministry for Primary Industries website. Loaded 30 November 2015. Accessed 15 June 2016
'TVNZ's Got Talent' (Video) YouTube website. Loaded 13 December 2012. Accessed 15 June 2016