John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan: Maori TV tangled in its own web

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Richard Jefferies, left, and Paora Maxwell were shortlisted for the chief executive role at Maori Television.
Richard Jefferies, left, and Paora Maxwell were shortlisted for the chief executive role at Maori Television.

The board of Maori Television should win an award for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

As programmes like the current affairs programme Native Affairs wins plaudits and awards for strong content and debate the board has been forced to abandon the appointment of new chief executive and is consulting the Crown. It had become tangled in its own web.

Labour's broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran - who raised questions in parliament about the appointment process - believes the Maori Party and Government may have become involved.

The appointment came to a screeching halt yesterday, after questions were raised in the Herald and in Parliament about the process that led two finalists, Paora Maxwell and Richard Jefferies.

In an astonishing move - harking back to dysfunction during the early days of Maori TV - at least 68 of the 170 staff had signed a petition to the board asking the Board to not appoint Maxwell, a former general manager of Maori and Pasifika programming at TVNZ.

Maori TV said the decision was due to a division on the board over which person should be appointed chief executive.

The board - chaired by former National Party Cabinet minister Georgina Te Heu Heu, "remains confident that the appointment was handled appropriately."

"As Chairman, I fully expect to be held accountable for my actions but I am disappointed by the distress caused to those who submitted their applications in good faith,"Te Heu Heu said.

"That same speculation has also had considerable impact on the staff and the reputation of Maori Television, and given the organisation's important role in the revitalisation of te reo me nga tikanga Maori, that is regrettable."

But Maori TV failed in its main task - to appoint a new CEO at the end of a long period of stability. Some in Maoridom will present this as a case of not being able to decide between two finalists. But the problem is around the processes that the board used to come up with those finalists

While the Board has faced considerable pressure throughout the recruitment process it remains confident that it has been handled appropriately.

According to the Maori Television board "the majority" of the recruitment process was managed by a sub-committee, which was for the most part, chaired by Deputy Chairman Tahu Potiki, Maori TV said in a statement.

The role of the sub-committee was to work with the recruitment company, undertake the necessary due diligence and develop a short list of candidates to present to the Board.

It was also agreed at the outset that a unanimous decision had to be reached before an appointment would be made.

In responding to allegations that there was a conflict of interest, Tahu Potiki says:

"It's not unusual for Board members to be familiar with applicants, particularly in a small country like New Zealand, but I can confirm that all necessary relationships with candidates were declared and dealt with appropriately."

Asking for the specific declarations, the Herald was advised to file a request under the Official Information Act.

The Board will now take some time to consult with key stakeholders, the Crown and the Maori language body Te Putahi Paoho, to decide on next steps.

Labour's Curran said yesterday she believed there was a lot more to the story that had yet to come out.

Curran earned a rebuke last week from Maori Party co-leader TeUruroa Flavell.

The Maori Party last week said it would only comment on the appointment process when the Board had made an appointment.

Flavell said the questioning was "wrong" and had interfered with the process and had unfairly disadvantaged the applicant.

"It is extremely unjust that there are no protections for every-day New Zealanders when statements relating to their background are being discussed in the House protected by the powers of parliamentary privilege - information which may be subject to confidentiality or could even be incorrect," Flavell said.

"The statements that Clare Curran has now put into the public arena may well influence the appointment for this key position and jeopardise future employment for that particular applicant - and she is able to do that without consequences for herself. She needs to be held to account."

Maori TV confirmed yesterday that Crown appointee Ian Taylor had resigned from the board. The resignation of Taylor - the head of the successful TV company Taylormade and the most commercially savvy board member - raises further concerns about the workings of the Board since the departure of former chairman Gary Muriwai.

You can only hope that Maori TV boards picks itself up by the bootstraps and people talk again about the channels' successes rather its failure to meet a board's biggest role - finding a new CEO.

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the 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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