John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Hosking silent on SkyCity

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Why would a broadcaster earning up to $1m a year do a deal with a listed company frequently linked to controversy?
Mike Hosking's deal with SkyCity is understood to be worth thousands of dollars. Photo / Supplied
Mike Hosking's deal with SkyCity is understood to be worth thousands of dollars. Photo / Supplied

NewsTalk ZB breakfast host Mike Hosking is staying aloof from questions about his commercial relationship with casino company SkyCity Entertainment.

He has left it for his listeners to judge whether he has been compromised by the deal, while Newstalk says there is a disclosure whenever he talks about SkyCity on air.

Hosking's Newstalk producer Emily Muller asked Hosking this week if he wanted to talk to the Herald.

But he was not interested.

"He does not tend to talk about things like that," she said.

It appears Hosking had always been open with his Newstalk management. Newstalk does not know the remuneration from the deal, but it is understood to be substantial.

Hosking also works one day a fortnight fronting Close Up, but it seems that TVNZ was not kept in the loop.

Hosking told TVNZ he did not register a conflict of interest - as required under his contract - because nobody had asked him to.

Then TVNZ took the unusual step of banning him from items about SkyCity, and has required him to update it on his commercial relationships outside work.

The different approaches reflect the value placed on news.

This is backed by the fact that MediaWorks took a laissez-faire attitude to Paul Henry and his relationship with SkyCity while at RadioLive.

MILLION DOLLAR MIKE

In my opinion the action from TVNZ acting head of news and current affairs Michele Romaine was firm and open.

It has been a breath of fresh air at an organisation that over recent years has seemed blase about issues such as journalistic independence and commercial intrusion.

Romaine - who is filling in until Ross Dagan starts next month - comes from the BBC, which takes these sorts of matters seriously.

The ethos under her predecessor Anthony Flannery was from Australian breakfast TV and prime-time current affairs.

If Hosking were a full-timer and failed to declare a conflict, this would surely merit a suspension.

But the ban on talking about SkyCity seems appropriate given he works on Close Up only once a fortnight.

Hosking is a talented interviewer - arguably New Zealand's best. He is at present TVNZ's only fill-in for Mark Sainsbury.

Ironically the other regular Close Up fill-in was Paul Henry, who had a similar deal with SkyCity.

I understand the SkyCity deal is worth thousands of dollars. But Hosking is believed to be earning up to $1 million a year from his broadcasting roles.

It beggars belief why someone like him would form a commercial relationship with an NZX-listed company that is frequently the subject of controversy.

HIGHER GROUND

TV3 news boss Mark Jennings is claiming the high ground, and says TVNZ has been too soft dealing with Hosking.

"He should go from Close Up altogether. This is just not journalistically viable at all," he said.

He insists it would not happen at TV3.

"Sometimes presenters ask permission to be master of ceremonies and I agree to it, but there is conflict of interest in contracts.

"I don't think it's acceptable for TVNZ and I don't think TRN should think it's acceptable - is he a journalist or is he an ambassador?"

Jennings - who worked extensively in Australian TV news - rejected the idea that a more relaxed approach to potential conflicts of interest came from across the Tasman.

"I cannot imagine that a Channel 7 current affairs presenter would have a contract with James Packer's casino empire," he said.

"There would be a huge fuss."

HENRY A GO-GO

Having entertainers or famous sports people associated with a casino makes perfect sense, but journalists with editorial influence and outlets is another thing.

As part of his SkyCity deal it seems Hosking sometimes acted as master of ceremonies at functions.

So if he wanted some pocket money why didn't Hosking hire himself out on that basis, rather than enter into a complicated relationship that associated him with a casino?

SkyCity had commercial deals with only two journalists - Mike Hosking and Paul Henry, the source said.

Henry has openly acknowledged he had a relationship with SkyCity while working at RadioLive.

A well-placed source said that one high-profile television journalist had approached SkyCity to be an ambassador, but SkyCity rejected her several times.

A source said that Henry was an ambassador while he was fronting Breakfast for TV One.

Famously Henry jumped off the Sky Tower with his elderly mother.

It is not clear whether on-screen references were part of the TVNZ script for Henry - or if there were any advertorial deals for TVNZ itself.

Henry could not be reached for comment, and TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards was not aware of such arrangements.

It's true Breakfast went through a hairy period in terms of its oversight. Henry, who polarised audiences, has subsequently moved to the Australian Ten Network, as has Anthony Flannery who is now head of news and current affairs for the Aussie channel.

SOHO SAFE

An intriguing aspect of the new video-on-demand service Quickflix is that it owns Australian rights to Home Box Office (HBO), the quality US channel that provides the core of content for Sky TV's excellent top end drama channel, Soho.

But New Zealanders will not be able to pick up HBO shows on Quickflix.

Sky insists it is not buying video on demand rights used by Quickflix. But a source familiar with the situation said that as part of the deal, Sky would have received the first right of refusal for video on demand in New Zealand, meaning that if Quickflix wanted them it would have to outbid Sky, with much deeper pockets.

It is particularly intriguing that HBO has taken a A$10 million ($12.7 million), 15.6 per cent stake in Quickflix.

MOVIES VULNERABLE

It is early times yet but the first impression is that the content on Quickflix is a little limited, though it will ramp up.

But it is great to see the arrival of true competition in the pay television sector after 22 years of zero choice for consumers.

I am predicting that the Sky TV movie package - which is currently part of a promotional deal - will be under pressure, because beyond the MGM channel and the premium channel Rialto, it is pretty flat.

Quickflix complains about Sky's trade practices and the unregulated market. But Sky TV chief executive John Fellet is claiming that the arrival of Quickflix has proved what he has always said, that Sky TV does not have a controlling influence on the pay TV industry.

"They said that Sky would kill things like this," he said.

One of the most significant factors about Quickflix is about distribution and the arrangements to access zero-rating deals on broadband so that people can download large amounts of video content. Such deals are integral to any internet TV venture.

- NZ Herald

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