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Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan: Maori TV pushes ahead with Maxwell as CEO

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Maori Television chairwoman Georgina te Heuheu with the Paora Maxwell - the man who is understood to soon be named as new chief executive of the organisation. File photo / Norrie Montgomery
Maori Television chairwoman Georgina te Heuheu with the Paora Maxwell - the man who is understood to soon be named as new chief executive of the organisation. File photo / Norrie Montgomery

The Maori Television board is pushing ahead with plans to appoint controversial broadcaster Paora Maxwell as chief executive in the next two weeks, broadcasting sources say.

The move is being led by chairwoman Georgina te Heuheu who was furious at staff and management opposition to Maxwell last year.

She has acknowledged she is a personal friend of Maxwell and has defended the board handling of the selection process.

But Maori Television insists it has not yet made a formal offer to a new chief executive - believed to be Maxwell. A formal announcement has been tipped for Wednesday although the decision is now expected to bring political scrutiny.

Maori TV chair Georgina Te Heuheu - a former National Party Cabinet Minister who was at the centre of a governance row in September last year - said the process had been underway for several weeks.

"But as of today no formal offer has made to the preferred candidate," she said,

Maxwell is seen as being more conservative than his predecessor Jim Mather who has been allied to the popular head of news and current affairs Julian Wilcox and head of production Carol Hirschfeld.

Both were early applicants knocked out of the running by the board.

Maxwell's appointment as CEO backed other members of the Maori TV board.

" I have just stopped a petition being circulated by general staff at Maori Television expressing disappointment and concern about the possibility of his appointment. Several senior staff and staff in other key positions have indicated to me that they are likely to resign should Paora Maxwell be appointed CEO."
Jim Mather, former Maori TV chief executive, in an email to Georgina Te Heuheu

That includes people appointed by both the government and iwi.

The government's reaction to the prospective Maxwell appointment - and the potential for controversy in an election year - is unknown.

But it is understood that shareholding minister Bill English has not been notified under the "no surprises" policy on new developments.

It is feared Internally that a Maxwell appointment will lead to a crack-down on the fledgling news and current affairs department - including its Native Affairs programme - which has annoyed Maori leaders for attacking establishment figures.

The renewed push to appoint Maxwell - despite government concerns about governance issues during in an election year - reprises the upheavals in August and September last year.

Around two thirds of staff signed a petition opposing an earlier attempt to install Maxwell - a move that is said to have infuriated board members.

Maori TV board member Ian Taylor resigned over the selection process that led to Maxwell being named as a finalist for the CEO job along with educationalist Richard Jefferies.

The Herald has obtained a copy of an email sent in August last year - when the row flared up - in which former chief executive Jim Mather warns Georgina Te Heuheu against appointing Maxwell.

"Several senior staff and staff in other key positions have indicated to me that they are likely to resign should Paora Maxwell be appointed CEO."
Jim Mather, former Maori TV chief executive, in an email to Georgina Te Heuheu

"I am sending this email to you based on my responsibilities as CEO to the organisation, management and staff.

"It has become an issue of such magnitude that it threatens the credibility and operational viability of Maori Television.

"There is significant organisational reputational risk associated with the potential appointment of Paora Maxwell, " said Mather, who left at the end of last year to be chief executive of te wananga o Aotearoa, and whose departure led to the vacancy.

" I have just stopped a petition being circulated by general staff at Maori Television expressing disappointment and concern about the possibility of his appointment," Mather said.

" Several senior staff and staff in other key positions have indicated to me that they are likely to resign should Paora Maxwell be appointed CEO.

Maori TV declined to comment and said it would make a statement on a new CEO when it was ready.

Maxwell declined to comment on whether he had been awarded the job or whether he was still an applicant, but a source familiar with the situation said that final interviews were held around March 8 and Maxwell had already been selected.

Finalists included Maxwell, Jefferies and John Bishara, a late entry who is believed to have been encouraged to apply by the government.

In any event he was unsuccessful, said a source.

An announcement is expected to be made before the 10th anniversary of Maori TV on March 28.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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