John Drinnan: Curious timing for dual roles

Kevin Kenrick is taking on a new role at a critical time for TVNZ.
Kevin Kenrick is taking on a new role at a critical time for TVNZ.

As massive upheavals rip through the media, our state broadcaster has shown an extraordinary sense of timing.

From July 1, TVNZ CEO Kevin Kenrick will be a director at the Bank of New Zealand, just when TVNZ needs a strong CEO focusing on the company.

The bank appointment occurring during upheavals in the media sector shows some unusual aspects.

It is normal practice for directors of Crown companies to work on private sector boards but it is unusual for a Crown company CEO - let alone the top editorial person - to be on the board for a big player in the economy.

Broadcasting Minister Amy Adams said there was nothing to prevent a state employee being appointed to a board if it was in his or her contract.

But the timing of this move is extraordinary.

There is huge change in the media sector, and rumours of structural changes ahead at TVNZ.

In my opinion, the question is not why Kenrick has been chosen by the BNZ but why TVNZ has gone to such extraordinary lengths to facilitate its CEO being in the BNZ boardroom.

TVNZ chairwoman Joan Withers said the broadcaster saw benefits in Kenrick taking on the BNZ role.

Kenrick has done a good job of stabilising TVNZ and increased market share, although that is partly due to dysfunction at MediaWorks.

• The BNZ is one of TVNZ's major bankers.

• General elections generally cause clashes with political parties that can be helpfully resolved by an editor-in-chief.

• TVNZ annual reports suggest Kenrick earns $1.1 million. BNZ directors' fees will be above that.

• The role of editor-in-chief was introduced to act as a middle man to deal with conflicts that involve politics or large costs.

The broadcaster was happy with his performance over three years, and wanted to retain him, Withers said.

Changes have been made to Kenrick's TVNZ duties to ensure there is no perception of potential conflict of interest, Withers said.

Negotiations over advertising with BNZ competitors will now be overseen by TVNZ's commercial director and not the CEO, averting other banks' concerns, she said.

Kenrick will no longer be involved with TVNZ's commercial and editorial dealings with the banking industry. He will remain the editor-in-chief with oversight of editorial issues but editorial issues involving the banking industry will now be handled by the company secretary, Withers said.

Kenrick has the highest integrity, Withers said, but conflict issues were inevitable in a small country obliging TVNZ to deal with them. Withers rejected a suggestion that having a chief executive on the board of a major bank would have a chilling effect on TVNZ journalists reporting on the banking sector.

She repeated that, saying Kenrick was known for his integrity and the changes to his role would deal with any issues.

Childish

Speaking of chilling effects. The petition calling for the sacking of Mike Hosking from TVNZ is a worrying sign that the keyboard warriors of social media are out of control. The petition now has more than 19,000 signatures and has been sent to the government demanding Hosking be removed.

Barrister Dan Wayman is reported as saying he organised the petition because he just felt something needed to be done.

I'll assume that the government ignores the petition, if only because Hosking is commercially valuable.

In any case, petitions for sackings are a worrying sign of the way people deal with opinions they don't like. I have questioned TVNZ's management of Hosking and the way that it has mixed his conservative commentaries with the otherwise candyfloss-lite content of Seven Sharp. He can say what he likes in radio and print. There was an argument for Hosking's conservative component when TV3's Campbell Live had a liberal bias. But since Campbell's departure TVNZ's approach this year has been to increase the frequency of Hosking's rants.

Petitioners need to focus their attention on TVNZ, not demand someone's sacking.

Petition all you like against TVNZ, but this seems childish.

Some may remember a few years back when there was a social media campaign from the Left aimed at advertisers.

Bowing to advertiser boycotts led to John Tamihere being dropped from Radio Live. He was let go, and ended up receiving a substantial settlement from RadioLive.

Bravo!

The Aussie boss in charge of the new Bravo channel, Chris Taylor, knows something about Kiwi TV culture. While working for the Aussie Nine Network he ran Prime TV from 2003 to 2005, before it was bought by Sky TV.

Bravo is a joint venture with MediaWorks and replaces Four network from July 3 on Freeview and Sky TV. It's the first time that Bravo has broadcast on free-to-air TV but the US company which owns Bravo, NBC, also owns the E! channel on Sky TV.

Taylor is the son of Lynton Taylor who, as a senior executive at Nine, played a role in the development of one-day cricket alongside Kerry Packer.

Chris also worked for Nine and was sent to New Zealand to run Albany Prime TV on contract when it was owned by Prime Australia. In the end Prime was sold to Sky TV.

John Drinnan produces the media website zagzigger.com

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been 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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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