From the birth of TV3 in 1989, journalist Melanie Reid became a fixture on the channel's current affairs shows, often reporting on battles against bureaucracy.
In her early 20s, she was at the scene of the Aramoana massacre. She went undercover for 60 Minutes in long dress and head scarf to expose Neville Cooper, aka Hopeful Christian, in his pre-Gloriavale days (“People still give me a hard time about wearing that frock”), and even smuggled her own infant into high-security Thai prison Klong Prem with cameras concealed in his stuffed toys, for her documentary In the Name of My Father — about her father-in-law Ernie Paerata being imprisoned for importing heroin. She helped Campbell Live make a splash on the show's opening night in 2005, with a story on NZ driving licences being for sale.
Reid has won Journalist of the Year and Investigation of the Year several times over at the New Zealand TV awards.
Reid started out in film in 1987, as a trainee on Sam Pillsbury movie Starlight Hotel. In the same period she was third assistant director on Geoff Murphy romp Never Say Die and a stunt horse rider on big-budget fantasy Willow.
She had ridden horses bareback around Queenstown in the 1970s, when the city was still “hicksville”, and rode competitively from the ages of 10 to 22. But the campaigning force was strong. At 18 she took on Queenstown Council, using public meetings and pamphlets to rally the town to shut down a multi million-dollar industrial development. Her success made her realise “if you can motivate people to care, change can happen”.
In 1986 Reid completed the journalism course at Wellington Polytechnic. Later she applied for a journalist training programme at TVNZ. Told it was full, her reply was “you should take me because I’ll be really good."
Reid sat outside the office of news boss Shaun Brown. “TV in those days was the domain of private school girls with affected accents, white linen trouser suits and lots of hairspray.” She borrowed a silk shirt from a friend and popped into the Gluepot in Ponsonby to spray her hair rigid before arriving at TVNZ for the interview. Despite a lack of TV experience, “somehow I convinced him to take me on.”
Although aspects of the job felt "agonising", Reid displayed a flair for finding stories and getting people talk to her. While on secondment to NBC in San Francisco, she waltzed into one of the most dangerous parts of town to round up possible witnesses to a murder involving rival Mexican and Samoan gangs. "NBC just thought I was a complete liability”.
Despite managing to score a story on Paul Holmes' show, Reid had little luck progressing to current affairs during her year at TVNZ. She was told that if she tried hard, in nine years she could go as far as a certain senior male reporter who shall remain nameless. “I was like, what the hell? I can run rings around him now.” Fortuitously, TV3 began in 1989.
TVNZ tried to sue her for leaving. TV3 fought for her and won. She was flown to lunch with news chief Marcia Russell, South Island bureau chief Mark Jennings, his Auckland counterpart Mike Brockie and head of news Rob Peterson. She pitched an idea. The reception was cool. “Mark tried to get me fired before I even started. He said, ‘She’s a bit full-on. Can we get rid of her?’”
But Jennings was vetoed, and he and Reid would go on to become a formidable team, setting up TV3’s Christchurch office. Tensions between TVNZ and the upstart network were high. “We were so locked out in the early days. We weren’t even allowed to film at the AMP show. We’d have to put on hats and glasses and drive in the junior reporter’s beaten-up car just to get into the flower show.” In 1997 Reid moved to Auckland to become second in charge of news and current affairs for the network. It was a pivotal time for TV3, with primetime newsreader John Hawkesby leaving to be replaced by John Campbell.
Six years later Reid found her home back in investigative journalism, as a fixture on 60 Minutes, 20/20, and later Third Degree. She covered the Christchurch Civic Creche case (scooping a rare interview with Peter Ellis), Gay Oakes, who buried her partner in the garden, and Christchurch scientist Vicky Calder, who was found not guilty of poisoning her partner. Reid has also reported extensively on David Bain, including conducting his first extended TV interview after leaving jail in 2012.
In 2006 Reid presented what she calls “New Zealand’s biggest cover-up”, with 90-minute special Let Us Spray. The documentary argues that successive Governments failed to respond to the concerns of New Plymouth residents, who believe their health was affected by toxic dioxin manufactured for 25 years at a local Ivon Watkins-Dow agri-chemicals factory. The documentary won Investigation of the Year at the 2007 Qantas Television Awards; it was also the subject of extended legal tousling after successful complaints to the Broadcasting Standards Authority by the Ministry of Health, and the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.
In 2012 Reid was named Journalist of the Year and shared Investigation of the Year, for an ACC story featuring Bronwyn Pullar, who had received private information on 7000 ACC claimants.
In the final episode of Third Degree in November 2015, Reid argued that "without serious journalism we weaken our democracy. I’m proud that I've been part of a team who fought hard for accountability and a better New Zealand. We fought hard for democracy and we fought hell of a hard for the truth."
Since 2017 Reid has been filing stories and video reports for news and current affairs website Newsroom, where she is Investigations Editor.
Profile written by Julie Hill
'Melanie Reid' TV3 website. Loaded 19 February 2013. Accessed 28 January 2016
Newsroom website. Accessed 14 April 2017
Unknown writer, 'TV3's toxin avenger vows she will never give up' (Interview) - The Sunday Star Times, 25 May 2008
3rd Degree (Television Programme) (TV3, 2015) Broadcast 14 December 2015
'From the archives: Reviews of John Campbell's first show' Stuff website. Loaded 29 May 2015. Accessed 28 January 2016