TVNZ boss bans political party membership for some journos [UPDATED with TV3 comment]


Chris Keall

TVNZ CEO Kevin Kenrick

report commissioned by TVNZ says it is "untenable" for those involved in political reporting to belong to a party, or be involved in political activity.

CEO Kevin Kenrick tells NBR he agrees with the finding.

Those involved in reporting, editing or producing political content will no longer be allowed to hold membership of a political party or engage in campaigning.

However, "We make a distinction between those who are directly involved reporting on political reporting, and the newsroom as a whole," the CEO says.

General reporters can belong to a political party and will not be required to disclose "passive party membership." They will be required to disclose any active political activity.

Are staff buying the new policy?

Mr Kenrick says he will be discussing it with newsroom teams over the next couple of days. His sense was that "people are going to be quite pragmatic."

The report was commissioned after former Q+A interviewer and head of Maori and Pacific Programmes Shane Taurima resigned in February following the revelation he he used the state broadcaster's office for a Labour Party organisational activities.

It was compiled by TVNZ head of legal affairs Brent McAnulty (who chaired the review panel), Radio Broadcasters Association CEO Bill Francis and media lawyer and Victoria University lecturer Steven Price.

Mr Taurima returned to TVNZ after making an unsuccessful bid to be the Labour candidate for the Ikaroa-Rāwhiti (East Coast) byelection last year. He is expected to make a run for a second Maori seat, Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) for this year's election.

The panel said it scrutinised Mr Taurima's first interview with National MP Paula Bennett on TVNZ's Q+A programme in March 2012 in particular, after critics claimed he "browbeat the minister".

It found no evidence of bias.

It did find that there had been abuse of TVNZ resources, with Mr Taurima and three other staff (none still employed) who belonged to Labour, "were instrumental in setting up three Labour Party branches in the Tāmaki Makaurau electorate. They were involved in fundraising, recruitment, a party newsletter and the development of electoral strategy. Some of those activities were conducted with TVNZ resources.

Mr Kenrick says he has already spoken to members of the current Maori and Pacific Programmes team.

They felt vindicated by the no bias finding.

The misuse of resources should never have happened, the CEO says, but the cost was "negligible".

TVNZ was now looking at ways to strengthen documentation for potential conflicts of interest.

The report found that "Upon Mr Taurima’s return to TVNZ, following his unsuccessful tilt at the Labour candidacy for Ikaroa‐Rāwhiti, there was a conversation as to his ongoing role ... here is a divergence of opinion as to what protocols or limitations were agreed. This could have been avoided if such agreement had been clearly documented and signed by both TVNZ and Mr Taurima. Certainly best practice would dictate this and the onus was on TVNZ to do so. Unfortunately this was not the case and this caused considerable uncertainty."

TV3's policy
Mark Jennings, news director at TV3 broadcaster MediaWorks, tells NBR "We don’t have a specific policy but what we do have is high journalistic standards and therefore it goes without saying that you can’t be a member of a political party and be a 3News reporter. 

"None of our Political reporters or editorial decision makers are members of a political party."

NBR has also asked RNZ for its policy.

RAW DATA: Read the full report (PDF)

And then it all went horribly wrong: a brief history of broadcasters-turned-politicians
Ex-TVNZ personality Tamati Coffey, who won Labour's nomination for Rotorua, is just the latest in a long line of broadcasters who've not been satisfied reporting the news; they want to make it.

But results have been pretty patchy for those who've made the leap to the Beehive, or at least an attempt.

Paul Henry ran as the National Party candidate for Wairarapa in 1999 but lost the seat to Labour's Georgina Beyer. Ms Beyer - who first came to local fame, ironically, after being hired as a radio presenter by Mr Henry when she was mayor of Carterton and gained worldwide notice as the first transsexual MP. But she otherwise had a low-key presence in Parliament and is now a sickness beneficiary in Wellington. Current MPs Maggie Barry (National) and fomer One News reporter Kris Faafoi (Labour) each won safe seats but have had largely anonymous in the House so far.

After several minor controversies, National List MP Melissa Lee has retreated from the limelight.

List MP and former TVNZ weatherman Brendan Horan (now an independent) was forced out of NZ First after allegations related to his mother's estate (he was recently cleared of any wrongdoing).

TVNZ interviewer turned far-right Libertarianz leader Lindsay Perigo was an unsuccessful candidate in 1996.

Broadcaster Tuku Morgan's career as an NZ First MP-turned-Mauri Pacific imploded over a pair of $89 underpants.

And of course ex Q+A man Shane Taurima is still in the throes of trying to get his political career off the ground [UPDATE: Labour leader David Cunliffe says today's TVNZ report raises "serious issues"; he backs the party's council, which has blocked Mr Taurima from standing.]

Not all broadcasters have been a disaster in Parliament: Quiz show presenter Sir Lockwood Smith had a successful stint as an MP and cabinet minister before becoming Speaker, and is now NZ's High Commissioner to the UK.

Below: Broadcaster turned list MP Brendan Horan rides a wave if popularity  or at least a wave.

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