TVNZ reviewing programmes for bias

Using facilities at a state-owned broadcaster for Labour Party meetings and communications was a serious lapse of judgement.

But the bigger concern is whether there was political influence in editorial and programming decisions and interviews.

TVNZ’s Chief Executive Kevin Kenrick says:

. . . TVNZ will now launch an investigation into staff use of TVNZ resources to support political party activities. It will also review the editorial independence of the Maori and Pacific Programming division during Shane Taurima’s time as manager (February 2013 to February 2014).

The investigation will be led by Brent McAnulty, TVNZ’s Head of Legal and Corporate Affairs and report to me, as TVNZ’s Editor in Chief. Brent will head up a review team that has access to all TVNZ internal resources, and a search has begun to identify a suitably qualified external person to provide an objective and independent critique of our editorial performance. 

This investigation will be conducted as a matter of priority but it won’t be a rush job – we’re focussed on carrying out a robust and comprehensive investigation that looks into this matter thoroughly. 

The review findings and recommendations will be made publicly available.

Given our position as New Zealand’s most watched news provider we hold ourselves to the highest standards of editorial independence and balance. Clearly a line has been crossed here – it’s unacceptable and we make no excuses for what’s happened.

Our focus now is to clearly and fully understand what has happened; how this happened; and what we need to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she was treated unfairly by Taurima.

. . . Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says she was treated unfairly by TVNZ interviewer Shane Taurima.

The TVNZ unit manager resigned from the state broadcaster yesterday after it was revealed he took part in a Labour Party hui, and that TVNZ property was used to hold party meetings.

Bennett was grilled by Taurima on youth unemployment, in April 2012 on Sunday morning current affairs show Q+A.

“I felt that it was actually really biased,” Bennett told reporters this morning.

“I came out of there and couldn’t work out whether it was anti-National, anti-me, I don’t know what it was.

“It was one of the worst and the least-informative [interviews] for viewers, to be honest, that I’ve ever done in my career … I always felt that he was much tougher on National Maori women … but you have got to be careful that you don’t start over-thinking things, as well.” . .

Good interviewers don’t badger and interrupt.

They ask intelligent questions, listen to the answers and ask more questions.

They are firm, they can be tough, but they must be fair.

Taurima isn’t the only broadcaster who’s had political allegiances, but John Armstrong explains why they are different:

What about Paul Henry? Inevitably questions are being asked – especially by some in a smarting Labour Party – as to what difference in political terms there is between Shane Taurima, who has been forced to resign his management position at TVNZ, and Henry, who unsuccessfully stood for Parliament for National in 1999 but yet has been given his own late-night programme on TV3.

Well, quite a lot actually.

For starters, Henry is but one example of someone starting or resuming a career in broadcasting after a dalliance with politics. You can go back to Brian Edwards who stood for Labour in 1972 but lost narrowly, and Pam Corkery who also briefly hosted a late night TV show, in her case after leaving Parliament.

Labour’s John Tamihere became a talkback jock after losing his seat. John Banks has regularly interchanged political and broadcasting roles, even to the point of holding both at once.

However, all were hired because of their larger-than-life personalities rather than their politics which they were anyway totally upfront about.

Along with Corkery, Henry has shown no inclination to return to politics.

Taurima stood down from his TVNZ role while he sought nomination as the Labour candidate in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection last year. After failing to win selection, he returned to work at TVNZ where he was head of the Maori and Pacific unit.

Given his management role in news and current affairs, TVNZ’s senior management should have sought assurances he had no intentions of standing for Parliament again.

TVNZ was aware, however, that Taurima was considering standing in another Maori seat at this year’s election. At that point, Taurima should have been confronted with two choices: either sever your political affiliations or quit TVNZ. . .

Act MP John Banks has used the issue to ask a very good question – why do we have state television?

TV3’s revelation that Shane Taurima, TVNZ’s former manager of the Maori and Pacific Programmes unit, hosted a Labour Party meeting last year on the broadcaster’s property and involving other TVNZ staff, shows another good reason why TVNZ should be sold, said ACT MP John Banks.

“This issue is not Mr Taurima’s politics. It is the fact that he and some of his staff wrongly used taxpayer’s property to further his political objectives” said Mr Banks.

“The easiest fix is for the taxpayer to get out of the television business. TVNZ should be sold.

“There is no reason for the State to be in the risky television business. We should sell now because TVNZ will soon be worthless as a result of technology changes.

“In private media if a journalist pursues a political agenda using company resources that is solely a matter for the management, shareholders and advertisers.

“If TVNZ were in private ownership no one would care about Mr Taurima’s Labour Party activities on the premises” said Mr Banks.

https://twitter.com/johnbanksnz/status/435576690576588800

4 Responses to TVNZ reviewing programmes for bias

  1. Andrei says:

    Of course TV is biased – it cannot not be.

    It’s actually unavoidable, we need to be honest about it and upfront.

    The real problem with the media in the English speaking world is that over the past forty years it has been captured by the cultural left and at this point it would be virtually impossible for someone without this perspective to even have a career in journalism.

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  2. John Bank’s point is an important one, if TVNZ is left to carry on its value or at least relative value will continue to deplete. I don’t think it would be fair to class it as an asset sale rather a broadcasting asset restructure. There are a couple of options.

    1. Wholesale sale of TVNZ, funds then ring fenced into platinum fund or similar.

    2. Partial sale, retention of say TV1 and a merger with RNZ and possibly Maori TV to create a genuine cross platform public broadcaster, again with funds ring-fenced from sale to ensure ongoing viability,

    Could see merit in either option, the downside of funding only is one needs a broadcaster in order to get funding, so having a broadcaster with less commercial objectives may offer a means of broader local programming.

    In either instance it is important the there is provision for a broader appointments process in terms of governance to ensure wider NZ perspective and limited political appointments and possibly two tiered with a electoral council and then a trust board itself.

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  3. themoonrakers says:

    Well, the BBC does pretty well..(and they’re a state broadcaster) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doctor_Who

    Perhaps the issue is quality rather than silly North Korea rhetoric- private broadcasters are just as good at propaganda anyway (see: Fox News, Berlusconi etc)

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  4. homepaddock says:

    The issue isn’t the quality of entertainment and fiction programmes, it’s the neutrality of news and documentaries.

    Private broadcasters have licence to be biased – they’re not using public money. State funded ones are and have a duty to be politically neutral.

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