John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan: Taurima inquiry puts journalist objectivity in spotlight

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Shane Taurima. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Shane Taurima. Photo / Paul Estcourt

The Taurima Inquiry has opened the door to questions about other journalists and whether their outside roles affect their independence.

Taurima - a former head of the TVNZ Maori and Pacific Programmes Department left TVNZ because of his Labour Party work and planned to stand for Labour.

He told the TVNZ Inquiry into his oversight of the Department Maori had more issues to deal but were aware of conflicts of interest.

"The familiarity of Maori journalists with their contacts is a key difference," he told the report panel which included broadcast executive Bill Francis, media lawyer Steven Price TVNZ lawyer and lobbyist Brent McAnulty.

Taurima said Maori journalists looked "at our connections as strengths not weaknesses."

The Report portrays him as as a thoughtful executive often thoughtful about his editorial role, but one who showed poor judgement over his political role.

It found no bias in TVNZ coverage under his watch.

But he coaxed staff under him to join the Labour Party and gave them tasks the Party including recruiting members.

The Inquiry report reveals at point one told him in an email if it was intruding on her work.

Taurima told the panel that Maori journalists relationship with their contacts could be complex.

"The professional and personal world we operate in is even more smaller still than those of pakeha journalists and broadcasters.

"Our Maori newsrooms have been run along tribal lines. In Maori newsooms we don't have rounds (by subject). We assign tribal areas, he said,

"The reporter would come from that tribe and would be reporting stories about his or her relations," Taurima said,

The Inquiry panel asked former journalist and Chris Wakaira his view on the additional challenges for Maori journalists.

He said that the basic tenets of journalism - balance and fairness - were universal.

A conflict was a conflict regardless of the ethnicity of the person at the centre of it, he said.

He agreed Maori have more interests to balance - whether they be family tribe or political - but they had to be consistently managed.

In Taurima's case the potential reputational damage to TVNZ overrides any cultural nuance and required Taurima to disclose activities, Wikaira said.

The panel concluded that Taurima faced a conflict of interest that he should have disclosed much earlier and more fully than he did.

Meanwhile the Taurima Inquiry has opened up scrutiny of journalists behaviour.

A round of criticism unveiled with Judith Collins attack the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Today, Prime Minister John Key has questioned another broadcaster's links to the Labour Party following the party's veto of journalist Shane Taurima.

TV3 responded to the questions and stood by its use of Clark, who has had a high-profile with Chapman Tripp in the past, providing media advice.

But it appears that TV3 relies on Clark standing aside for any conflicts of interest.

It does not know who she provides advice for in her current day job as a lawyer at Kensington Swan while she acts as a political commentator on TV3 shows such as The Nation.

Key said he was "surprised to learn that journalist-turned-lawyer Linda Clark was training to Labour leader David Cunliffe".

"In the same way that MPs and ministers have to manage their conflicts of interest, it's also true for the media," he said.

"I don't know how she's managing that situation but she'll just have to demonstrate to viewers that she's managing it appropriately."

He said it was not unusual for media commentators to provide these services - he was trained by former TVNZ head of news and current affairs Bill Ralston.

But he said it was important that viewers knew of any political connections.

It is understood Key was trained through Deadline, a company owned by Ralston and his partner Janet Wilson. Ralston's role training Key had been widely speculated, but has never been officially confirmed before, and the distinction was never declared in his other media roles.

TV3 issued a statement that revealed it was not made aware of Clark's clients through her present employers Kensington Swan.

The statement from TV3 news and current affairs boss Mark Jennings said Clark was one of the country's most experienced and most astute political commentators.

"In her work to date as a commentator for TV3, Linda has withdrawn from situations or made a public declaration where a potential conflict of interest exists with her work as a lawyer," Jennings said.

"Last year, Linda acted as moderator for TV3 debate programme The Vote, and she has also been one of many commentators on The Nation.

"She has never been employed by TV3 as a journalist, interviewer or host.

"Because the firm she works for, Kensington Swan has a policy of never commenting on clients, in this case she is unable to confirm or deny any professional dealings with David Cunliffe.

"In 2011, Linda was a panelist in TV3's Election Night coverage. TV3 has not announced its team for this year's Election coverage, but if Linda was to be involved, the extent of her involvement would again be as a panelist on Election Night," Jennings said.

- 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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