Bailey's $800,000 newsreading contract canned

By Claire Trevett, Derek Cheng

The 18-year reign of veteran newsreader Judy Bailey has ended in a decision Television New Zealand CEO Ian Fraser says is "rejuvenation or die" for One News.

TVNZ announced yesterday it was not renewing Bailey's $800,000 contract and Mr Fraser made it clear that its battle with TV3 was behind the decision.

"TVNZ is committed to refreshing and renewing One News. It's something we have to do. We've got a challenge in Auckland, particularly against our friends at TV3 and we have committed to doing what we have to to fix things and restore One News to its position of supremacy."

Bailey - known as 'the Mother of the Nation' - said she learned that her TVNZ contract had ended in a meeting with Mr Fraser on Monday.

"I've been sitting on this deep dark secret for two days. Honestly, I'm cool with it. I've had the most remarkable run and it's time to move on."

The 52-year-old said TVNZ wanted a "fresh look for next year".

"I wasn't going to be on telly forever. It wasn't a surprise. I hadn't expected my contract to be renegotiated ... They made the decision for me. Contract renegotiations never even began."

She said the meeting was amicable, although there was no indication her contract would not be renewed before Monday.

Just over a month ago, news and current affairs boss Bill Ralston started a comprehensive overhaul of his stable, to attempt to arrest a ratings slide to TV3.

AGB Nielsen Media Research figures show that over the past year TVNZ's hold on the advertising lucrative 25- to 54-year-olds had slipped from a 35 per cent share to 28 per cent. TV3's had grown from 15 per cent to 20 per cent.

However, Total Media chief executive Martin Gilman said laying the blame at the feet of Bailey was not the solution. He warned TVNZ could lose even more ground, because viewers were averse to change.

Mr Fraser said no permanent replacement had been decided on but he hoped the final decision would be made by the time Bailey ended in December. Simon Dallow would fill in for the majority of her holiday.

The announcement ends months of speculation. Throughout this year TVNZ news has experienced an accelerating loss of viewers to TV3, especially in the younger and urban demographics, which Mr Ralston told staff were "unsustainable".

In July Mr Fraser said he hoped Bailey could be retained but since then TVNZ's support had waned.

Her fate has been the subject of much conjecture after the controversial doubling of her salary to $800,000 last year. The salary drew criticism from Prime Minister Helen Clark and three of the board members offered to resign at the time, but the offers were rejected.

Bailey's salary was considered necessary because Paul Holmes' departure meant risking the collapse of the entire early evening line-up - crucial to take viewers through to prime time.

In a memo to staff last month, Mr Ralston strongly endorsed Susan Wood's role on Close Up but his only comment on Bailey was that staff would be told when her contract negotiations had concluded.

Executive producer Melanie Jones was sacked last month, although sources said this was more down to management style than ratings. Face to Face with Kim Hill and Foreign Correspondent have also been cut, because of low ratings.

TVNZ has left the door open for Bailey to have an ongoing role with the broadcaster, but neither she nor Mr Fraser knew what that might be.

Bailey said she would continue until the end of the week, after which she would be overseas for a three-week holiday. On returning she will see out the end of her contract, which finishes in December, "then there'll be this glorious void to enjoy".

She said it was too early to say what she would do next year, but she wanted to work with disadvantaged children and their families.

"I will miss my workmates enormously ... but I get to spend more time with my family, which will be wonderful ... [The job's] been taxing, really taxing of late, I'm really looking forward to having a break."

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