John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Media: Antarctic job for Sky man

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Foreign Minister Murray McCully appoints political lobbyist, and old friend, to board of Antarctic New Zealand.

Antarctic New Zealand is the agency overseeing our interests in the Great White Continent and the Southern Ocean. Photo / APN
Antarctic New Zealand is the agency overseeing our interests in the Great White Continent and the Southern Ocean. Photo / APN

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has appointed the Sky TV lobbyist Tony O'Brien to the board of Antarctic New Zealand - the agency overseeing our interests in the Great White Continent and the Southern Ocean.

The unusual appointment of the legendary (and still very active) political lobbyist to the foreign affairs role has raised eyebrows - even among his Nats colleagues who see no obvious expertise, unlike businessman Rob Fyfe and scientist Carolyn Burns, who were also picked.

A McCully friend said the two men like each other, with a friendship dating back to the days when McCully was a leading light in the Parliamentary Rugby Club and Sky TV organised its overseas jaunts.

And the Government was not shy either in appointing Saunders & Unsworth political lobbyist Barrie Saunders to the board of TVNZ, and former lobbyist Richard Griffin as chairman of Radio New Zealand.

According to a parliamentary source McCully told colleagues he picked O'Brien for the Antarctic board because Sky ran the National Geographic and Discovery channels and he believed that might help promote filming. TV sources doubt that link exists.

"One of the Government's four strategic priorities for Antarctica New Zealand is to raise awareness of the importance of Antarctica to New Zealand and the world. Mr O'Brien increases the board's ability to deliver on this priority," McCully said.

Does anybody else find this a bit loose?

LOOSE OVERSIGHT

Sky TV has taken advantage of slack political management of broadcasting issues from successive governments.

As The Hobbit premiere consummated the love between the Government, Peter Jackson and Warner Bros, National's ongoing close relations with Sky TV are a reminder of how National has cast selected media as winners or losers.

A hands-off policy for broadcasting regulation has been a significant boost for Sky and its growth and profits.

Now the Sky TV lobbyist - who was the network's executive for its election coverage and a key player behind the political show Back Benches - is effectively working within the government.

A press release appointing O'Brien was released on Wednesday, the day of The Hobbit premiere, timing that ensured it was virtually ignored by mainstream media. Obviously there is no blatant conflict of interest. Nobody could blame O'Brien for accepting or Sky for giving him leave to pursue his governmental role.

But it allows the company more access to the workings of government. That could allow it to be successful in fending off calls for regulation of Sky - calls that have led to a Commerce Commission investigation. The Government's hands-off policies have helped Sky and hurt the competition.

HERALD RESTRUCTURE

NZ Herald editorial staff learned some details on Wednesday regarding the partial merging of its print edition newsroom and the online operation, nzherald.co.nz.

Aspects of the online operation such as video and social media will remain distinct from the merged newsdesk, but online news executives will now work more closely with print.

Restructuring aims to create efficiencies and eliminate double handling of content, but editor-in-chief Tim Murphy made it clear yesterday it was also about cost- cutting to deal with challenges in the industry. Up to eight editorial jobs are expected to go from across a pool of 190.

Other proposals include:

Some Herald feature copy would be outsourced to the Pagemasters subediting bureau.

Herald online editor-in-chief Jeremy Rees becomes editor of the Weekend Herald and maintains a role at APN digital.

The Herald on Sunday maintains a separate editorial team to ensure it is distinct from the daily paper, though there will be combined teams for business, sports and photographers.

NZ Herald business editor Liam Dann would head a combined print and online business news team.

HASTINGS EXIT

In tandem with a partial merger of the NZ Herald print newspapers with its online division nzherald.co.nz, David Hastings is stepping down as editor of the Weekend Herald.

Hastings is leaving to focus on writing history books, with Extra! Extra! about 19th century Auckland newspapers, due to be published early next year.

His first book was Over the Mountains of the Sea: Life on the the Immigrant Ships.

MAGAZINE WARS

An advertising source who would not be named said that the purchase of ACP in Australia and New Zealand by the big German publisher Bauer had removed some of the financial clouds hanging over its former parent company.

Admirers of Bauer believed its acquisition could see it resuming a strategic place dominating the magazines business.

The insider said agencies had even mused in the past about a merger of APN News & Media's magazine division NZM and Fairfax Magazines - bringing the corporate players down to two - as it is with newspapers, television and radio - and a part of the astonishing level of cross- media ownership in New Zealand.

Never say never, said our adman, but buying out the competition would be challenging, with both companies currently cutting costs and restructuring to save money.

APN recently closed down its community title The Aucklander and has put its South Island titles on the market.

Fairfax in Australia is at the eye of a storm with an astonishing 1900 job cuts. The weather is not so dramatic for its New Zealand operations because Kiwi media are less unionised compared to Australia and had already cut costs and staff.

WHERE IS KING?

Whatever happened to Sandra King, the high-flying director of sales marketing and communication for Fairfax NZ.

King walked from the company headquarters several weeks ago and has not been heard from since in the media world.

Fairfax has refused to clarify King's status. The firm is telling ad folk it is a human resources matter, that it cannot discuss it and all queries should be addressed to New Zealand chief executive Allen Williams, but he did not respond to queries on King's role in the company.

- 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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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