Media: Copy that - McCarthy keeps her job

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Radio New Zealand chief executive Peter Cavanagh and networks manager John Howson have put themselves in the firing line for their softly-softly approach to plagiarism by radio host Noelle McCarthy.

Yesterday, the public radio company revealed an unspecified number of additional examples of plagiarism from the Irish star. But it reiterated its commitment to McCarthy's planned holiday radio show Summer Noelle.

It appears she will remain on the RNZ taxpayer-funded payroll.

"Noelle will continue to prepare for the Summer Noelle programme scheduled from Boxing Day but will not present Afternoons for the rest of the year," said the company.

The unsigned statement is part of a sorry saga in which the state broadcaster has obfuscated and delayed queries from the Business Herald about problems on the afternoon show.

This column reported on November 14 that John Howson - a former rugby commentator who has risen to the top at RNZ - even issued a statement to staff saying (unspecified) rumours about McCarthy were 100 per cent wrong and coaxed staff to quell them.

State radio has provided scant information to listeners after the breach and few details on the processes for its investigation.

Despite this, the company says: "Radio New Zealand has the most public and transparent editorial process of any broadcaster in New Zealand."

Last week the Business Herald raised issues about McCarthy's handling of text messages and asked her if she had made one up. McCarthy declined to comment.

After the Sunday Star Times showed RNZ three examples of plagiarism, John Howson launched an investigation.

RNZ issued a second statement yesterday: "Noelle McCarthy agreed a failure to attribute sources was a breach of Radio New Zealand policies and issued an apology."

Radio New Zealand has continued its investigation and now concluded a detailed review of essay material broadcast during the 46 occasions that McCarthy presented Afternoons in 2008.

The state broadcaster had "identified a small number of instances in addition to those already uncovered by the newspaper which Noelle McCarthy had agreed were not adequately attributed".

"These further examples had been discussed with her," said the unsigned statement.

PROBLEMS AT RNZ

Plagiarism is a thorny issue in all media newsrooms given the power of the internet to spread information. This has encouraged companies to develop policies.

Some commentators such as Radio New Zealand's own Denis Welch argued that McCarthy's admitted breaches were not serious.

But they are surprising from an organisation that has prided itself on maintaining higher standards than commercial media and whose newsroom is scrupulously careful.

My sources say that there is a serious problem with the processes and procedures at RNZ. While the news operation faced strict protocols, the rest of the company did not and the afternoon show had become a hybrid of entertainment and information.

There was serious concern among some staff about the way that the issue had been dealt with by Howson, a source said.

Communications manager John Barr dismissed a suggestion that the company had ignored concerns that had been raised with management. He said RNZ management responded appropriately as soon as they were aware of a problem.

While some staff have taken solace from Radio New Zealand's sympathetic treatment of McCarthy through the investigation, they have questioned the damage to RNZ. "Some people are asking whether there would have been the same reaction if this had been a young journalist or lower-profile journalist or presenter," said a public radio source.

McCarthy appears in several media and appeared on the Television New Zealand election coverage with Mark Sainsbury. She also writes a column for the Weekend Herald and editor Tim Murphy said there were no issues regarding her contributions to the paper.

CHEAP AS CHIPS

TV3 has taken the cheap option to provide a new channel for the digital free-to-air platform Freeview. But Freeview general manager Steve Browning is confident that the "Three

Plus One" approach announced this week - where it will repeat TV3 programming one hour later on a Freeview channel - will not disappoint potential Freeview owners who expected a whole new channel. Freeview and pay-TV company Sky Television are in the middle of a television war.

Freeview is claiming it will ensure free television is an alternative to Sky TV. Asked if the Three Plus One approach would discourage new people from spending money on a Freeview tuner, he said that more channels were on their way.

While economic times were tough, limiting other independent companies starting new Freeview channels, they would also affect the willingness of customers to spend about $100 a month on a Sky subscription, Browning
claimed.

SKY SCORES

From a business point of view, the decision by TV3 owners MediaWorks makes perfect sense. TV3 insists there have been some additional payments to Hollywood studios for the rebroadcast rights, but it is still clearly a cheap option.

Like all media companies, it faces an advertising downturn and has met increasing demands from its private equity owners Ironbridge. And unlike state television, which received $78 million over five years to fund advertising-free TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7, it is getting no handouts. TV3 insists the Three Plus One option was popular when it was used on Freeview in Britain.

Still - whatever Browning and TV3 say - I think it will do nothing to attract new people to Freeview. As such, the cheap option is a small win for Sky in the TV war.

SECRET SQUIRREL

What checks and balances are there to ensure that taxpayer funds are not used by a new Government to hire consultants who helped out in the election campaign?

The change from Opposition to Government raises questions about accountability for taxpayer funding. Before the election, this column revived scrutiny of the party leaders' budgets, some of which was spent on consultancies such as media training which could be useful in an election year.

Back then, John Key's chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, was not prepared to say who he had hired for consultancies. Because money comes from Parliamentary Services it is outside the Official Information Act.

We asked, doesn't secrecy open the door for work going to politically friendly businesses before and after the election? Eagleson points out now National is in government - and making sometimes political appointments, such as press secretaries - consultancies are paid out of the Ministerial Services budget that is subject to the Official Information Act. It is open to public scrutiny. But he was unclear as to whether such consultancies are subject to competitive

tender. Eagleson said there would be no obligation to identify consultants who had worked under the confidential arrangements of the Leaders Budget.

Parliamentary Services insists that taxpayer funding is scrutinised so that public money cannot be used for party political uses.

"Parliamentary Service funding can only be used by members of Parliament, including leaders' offices, for activities that have a parliamentary purpose. Our processes ensure that this is the case," said spokesman Warren Inkster.

But the obvious solution is for politicians to stop being secret about how they spend money on professional services such as media training.

HIGH GROUND

Broadcasters apparently regularly use free travel from airlines to defray

costs from their sports news coverage but TVNZ claims it advises viewers. Such deals have become common but there is an expectation that they are declared, so that viewers can judge whether there are any free advertising plugs on air.

TV3 owner MediaWorks said that TV3 sports reporter Kevin Sinnot travelled to Britain and Ireland with Royal Brunei Airlines to cover the Grand Slam rugby tour - and that was not declared. But MediaWorks - which has taken the high ground on sponsorship deals in the past - said the free flights were part of a radio sponsorship deal with Royal and it did not need to declare it.

- NZ Herald

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