Born and raised in Auckland, Rob Harley is one of New Zealand’s most experienced broadcast journalists. His career has included work in radio, daily news at TVNZ and more than a decade on primetime current affairs series Assignment and Frontline.
Harley joined TV One in the late 70s and would go on to work on some of the major stories of 80s including the Bastion Point occupation, the Springbok Tour and the trial of French agents following the Rainbow Warrior bombing. In addition to general reporting, he specialised in health and medical stories.
Harley founded a church in Mount Roskill in 1981 and preached there for more than a decade. Later he would make a number of documentaries inspired by his Christian faith. In 1997, he told The Listener, “My relationship with God stirs my heart in a way that helps me love people. Left to my own devices, I might not be as loving and caring as I am as a believer”. He saw no conflict between his beliefs and his profession: “…people know I’m a Christian and they can judge my work on a known fact … (at work) my faith has always been an open book”.
In 1990, he graduated to Frontline, TVNZ’s flagship weekly current affairs show, working alongside Ross Stevens, Linda Clark, Richard Harman, Susan Wood and Rod Vaughan. Frontline was shelved at the end of 1994, to be replaced by investigative documentary series Assignment. Harley moved to the new show, along with Wood, Vaughan and Harman.
He had also been developing his own faith-based series to show “good folk doing good works at street level, rather than preaching from the podium. In other words, Christians with consistency.” Extreme Close Up featured stories of those who'd overcome adversity through personal belief and courage. After debuting on TV One in 1997, it ran for three years.
In January 2001, one of his Assignment stories, about a West Auckland volunteer fire fighter turned arsonist, won a gold medal for coverage of breaking news at the New York Festival’s TV awards. He took time out to travel to East Timor, Mongolia, Kosovo and Montenegro to make Ordinary Heroes, a documentary about New Zealanders working for World Vision. Before the end of the year, just days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he was despatched to New York to cover their immediate aftermath for Assignment.
In 2002, TVNZ launched new current affairs programme Sunday; Harley joined the reporting team, which included host Mike Hosking and Cameron Bennett, Janet McIntyre and Mike Valentine. One of his first stories saw him return to his health beat to investigate a scandal surrounding hearts from dead children retained by Greenlane hospital.
With more than two decades of journalism to look back on, he went into print with Brave, Mad and Memorable, a book that revisited 10 memorable stories from his days on Frontline, Assignment and Extreme Close Up.
In mid-2003, TVNZ reviewed its news and current affairs programming, and Harley took voluntary redundancy. He later said he was soul weary, partly in response to increasing commercial pressures pervading current affairs. He also told the Southland Times that he knew it was time to move on when “I had to do a story for a second time about a bank robber who I recognised from 20 years ago”.
He turned to communications consultancy, and worked actively with aid agencies to raise their profiles and highlight their work. He continued to make independent documentaries adding camera work to his presenting, directing and producing skills. He was one of the producers of Chasing the Ghost, the documentary presented by Paul Holmes about methamphetamine addiction.
In 2009, he was back on screen at TVNZ, as subject rather than story teller, in ‘Taming the Black Dog’, a Sunday story about clinical depression. It had claimed the life of his colleague and business partner Linda Gollan; Harley also recounted his own struggles with the illness.
He has continued to travel the world for his stories. While travelling America on a Harley Davidson for his series The Survivors Guide to Hell, Harley found himself in Waco Texas, just 27 kilometres from a fertiliser plant explosion as it claimed 15 lives.
In 2014, he co-produced Keeping up with the Kaimanawas, a series for TV One about the Wilson sisters and their work with wild horses. It was made by Bravo Communications, a production company he founded with wife (and television news executive) Alison in 2001.
Rob Harley’s work has been recognised with more than 20 national and international journalism awards.
Rob Harley Media website (broken link). Accessed 5 October 2015
Rob Harley, Brave Mad & Memorable (Auckland: HarperCollins, 2002)
Rob Harley, ‘Rob Harley, Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker’ (Broken link) Like Minds, Like Mine website
Ingrid Barratt, 'Heaven, Hell and Harley Davidsons' (Interview) - War Cry, 1 November 2014, page 5
Louisa Cleave, ‘Keeping the Faith’ – Sunday News, 11 January 1998
Mike Conney, ‘High Voltage Hedgehog’ (Interview)- Grapevine Issue 4, 2012
Lin Ferguson, ‘The Power of a Story’ – The Southland Times, 8 June 2004
Margo White, ‘Faith Out Front’ – NZ Listener, 15 March 1997, page 38
‘Sunday August 23: Taming the black dog' (Television Programme) 2009. TVNZ website