Media: Maori TV skips selection process

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The 100 per cent Pure New Zealand campaign, seen here in New York, is under scrutiny. Photo / Supplied
The 100 per cent Pure New Zealand campaign, seen here in New York, is under scrutiny. Photo / Supplied

Maori Television chief executive Jim Mather has hired the boss for a new digital arm for the taxpayer-funded agency, but didn't check who was in the market.

He hired consultant Stephen Smith, who had been called in to complete a report on the digital future.

There was no obligation or legal requirement for Maori TV - which was given $33 million in direct taxpayer funding last year and $20 million indirect funding - to advertise the new senior executive role.

Smith is a former deputy chief executive of TVNZ, and since leaving has been digital boss for Vodafone and Fairfax media, so has a strong CV and got on well with Maori TV management.

It is not surprising Maori TV hired a non-Maori for a senior post - it indicates it is focused on expertise rather than cultural orientation.

What is surprising is that the organisation avoided a selection process that looked at who was on the market.

Mather is highly regarded for ensuring stability at Maori TV and Smith actually filled in for a while as chief executive of TVNZ after Ian Fraser walked out.

But remember, hiring and firing policies dogged Maori TV in its early days. Notably it had a baptism of fire in 2002 over hiring its foundation chief executive, Canadian John Davy.

He was found to have lied on his CV, leading to him being deported.

There are no questions about Smith's qualifications. But you'd think given the level of taxpayer cash Maori TV would be cautious when appointing such a senior executive. No need, says Mather.

"We are a statutory corporation that is government-funded but operates as a private entity would.

"We are not a part of the public service so there are no legal or other obligations that require us to advertise the job.

"Stephen had unique traditional broadcasting skills given his history at TVNZ and senior digital positions with Vodafone and Fairfax," he said.

IN HOUSE

Changes introduce a new hierarchy at Maori TV, with programming boss Carol Hirschfeld also appointed to a new role as general manager of production to make more shows in-house.

"There is a strong possibility they can do it more efficiently and cost effectively in-house. It's a core competitive advantage we have. With intellectual property rights we can disseminate content in different ways, such as online," Mather said.

"Increased in-house production would be funded by more efficiency and Maori TV would not be accessing $20 million set aside for the Maori indies," he said.

Beyond expectations for more "efficiencies" it is understood that Maori TV has been able to set aside funding from past allocations.

PURE MARKETING

Prime Minister John Key's comments about Tourism New Zealand's 100 per cent Pure Brand continue to spark debate about whether it makes promises to consumers we can't keep. Branding expert James Bickford of Interbrand says the brand has not been damaged by critics of this country's environmental record.

But the debate suggested 100 per cent Pure was a brand under pressure, with potential to deteriorate.

The reality was that people's knowledge and expectations about environmental issues had changed in the 10 years the campaign had been running, he said.

Advertising veteran David Walden - whose ad agency TBWA Whybin oversaw the long-running ASB Goldstein ads - begged to differ and said the brand was as strong as ever.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Kevin Bowler said: "Of course the natural environment is part of the New Zealand brand positioning, but it is not the whole story. The campaign is about the unique and special experiences on offer in New Zealand, and this theme has been strengthened further this year with the addition to 'New Zealand 100 per cent Pure You'."

SLEAZE SQUEEZE

The resignation of Broadcasting Standards Authority chief executive director Dominic Sheehan suggests the Government has bought broadcasters' argument that the standards watchdog needs to be reined in.

Asked if his departure was linked to recent controversy about BSA decisions, Sheehan said the only controversy was from broadcasters critical of its decisions. Sheehan is expected to leave in September and has not decided his next move.

The Government has said it is looking at combining back-office functions for the BSA with the advertising industry-controlled Advertising Standards Authority, but many view the merger as fitting National's support for self-regulation.

Broadcasters have been livid about what they see as a new conservatism at the BSA. But there has been growing concern about the level of sleaze on TV in early prime time.

Broadcasters lost a High Court appeal against a BSA decision on the TV3 soap Home & Away. But there are signs that they are winning an argument to have more say in the running of the standards regime.

SPARKING DEBATE

Herald on Sunday editor Bryce Johns says he is comfortable with the role of the paper's financial columnist Damien Grant, whose colourful history was traversed in an article by the National Business Review.

Journalist Matt Nippert - a former staff member at the HoS - revealed that Grant was convicted on 10 fraud charges in 1994 and sentenced to 2 years in jail - a history that would lead to unintended consequences if the Insolvency Practitioners Bill became law, the paper said.

Grant is currently a liquidator with Waterstone and would need to seek dispensation from the court in order to remain as such, the NBR said.

Asked if it was a problem, HoS editor Johns said: "I wouldn't say it's a problem. But it's something I'm glad I'm now aware of. Damien fronted up to both the NBR and Herald on Sunday readers in his subsequent column. He was transparent and offered cogent reasons why the proposed law changes might adversely affect top operators in the field like him.

"His role as columnist is to spark debate in the readership over various business issues. He does that in a provocative way and is one of the smarter writers in his field that I'm aware of," Johns said.

"So long as his current behaviour remains ethical and he continues to garner strong reader response, he'll have a place on the HoS."

GOING, GOING

High-profile journalist Jenni McManus has left the senior role created by Fairfax when it bought the Independent - to be head of communications for accounting firm Ernst & Young.

It marks a significant shift for McManus.

When she held senior roles with the now defunct Independent - and especially before Fairfax's takeover - the paper was a trenchant critic of public relations.

Meanwhile, the deputy editor of the Listener, David Lomas, has stepped down and is understood to be looking at projects for television.

The Listener circulation has survived the crisis faced by magazines better than most, and many believe Lomas has played a big role in the renewed vigour for the product.

It is understood that his departure came after the Listener's editor Pamela Stirling went on study leave and features editor Joanne Black was flown from Wellington to run the title.

Lomas is the fifth deputy editor in seven years at the Listener. Others include Steve Braunias, Denis Welch, Tim Watkin and Mary Jane Boland.

FUNNY WORLD

Wiser heads have warned to never get involved in debates in Blogland.

But a Herald item about taxpayer funding for Ladyhawke prompted such howls of indignation on the musos' website dubdotdash, I felt obliged to take part and the experience confirmed my impressions about blog debates.

What I found was that many of these blogs - though not all - seem to operate as opinion regulators with like-minded contributors supporting one another and defining the debate.

Differing opinions can be dismissed as trolls and there is a concerted effort to bring people into line. Inevitably the Ladyhawke debate was peppered with personal invective and swearing. The lesson was clear - you're in Blogland now.

It shows why the so-called MSM (mainstream media) so seldom ventures in - maybe it is better that way.

- NZ Herald

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