PM dismisses Fraser’s claims of interference

By Ainsley Thomson, Claire Trevett

The Government has dismissed Ian Fraser’s claims of board interference at TVNZ, claiming the chief executive resigned because of a breakdown in the relationship between him and the board.

Prime Minister Helen Clark distanced the Government from Mr Fraser’s resignation yesterday and tried to play down its significance, repeatedly saying there was no truth to allegations of board interference in TVNZ’s news and current affairs.

"I think we can put the resignation down to a difference of opinion between the board and the chief executive. It happens from time to time in any organisation. Mr Fraser has elected to go and I think that is where the Government interest in it ends."

Helen Clark also dismissed any prospect of an inquiry into the politically appointed board in light of Mr Fraser’s allegations that it was interfering in matters beyond its brief.

Mr Fraser officially resigned as chief executive on Sunday, saying his position had become untenable because of the board’s attempts to interfere in the day-to-day management of TVNZ, rather than sticking to its brief of governance.

The Herald understands matters came to a head over discussion about appointments and salaries for employees earning more than $300,000.

One appointment understood to be in contention is the replacement for Judy Bailey. At the time of the decision not to renew Bailey’s contract, Mr Fraser said the process of choosing her replacement was up to news chief Bill Ralston and he (Mr Fraser) "will happily go with Bill’s judgment".

"At the point at which that decision is made I will have extricated myself from the process. This one, importantly, is not my call. In terms of where we go from the beginning of 2006, the call on that appropriately belongs to the head of news and current affairs. I am confident he will get it right."

Mr Fraser’s resignation came after the board tried to insist he should head the process, rather than Mr Ralston.

Yesterday board chairman Craig Boyce defended this stance, saying it had to sign off rights on salaries over $300,000 and part of that was to take an interest in appointments and negotiations as well.

He accepted Mr Fraser’s resignation "with regret" but denied the board had improperly interfered.

Mr Boyce met Mr Fraser yesterday to discuss the resignation. Board insiders have said Mr Fraser had reacted in a "volatile" way to what the board considered was a just and allowable exercise of its "sign- off" powers of any contracts over $300,000.

But yesterday Mr Fraser was sticking to his stance that the board was trying to interfere in the day-to-day running of TVNZ, although he made it clear he was not referring to political interference in the editorial content of TVNZ news.

Sources said Mr Ralston called a meeting of his staff and told them he had no intention of leaving.

Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey remained silent yesterday.

National Party leader Don Brash called for Mr Maharey to start a parliamentary inquiry into whether TVNZ was open to political interference.

"If Labour does not launch such an inquiry National will make full use of the select committee process to instigate a full and wide-ranging inquiry."

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