Controversial Bill Ralston quits as TVNZ News Head

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Bill Ralston, the controversial head of news at TVNZ, has quit.

His resignation comes as the board of TVNZ is set to restructure its top level management, due to be announced today.

In a statement to staff, Chief Executive Rick Ellis said Ralston had led News and Current Affairs "during a very challenging three year period and leaves with our best wishes."

Sources at TVNZ told nzherald.co.nz that Ralston would be gone by Friday. The date has now been confirmed by TVNZ.

In his statement, Mr Ellis said: "Bill Ralston, Head of News and Current Affairs, has advised me today of his intention to resign from the company in order to pursue other interests. I have accepted Bill's resignation."

The company-wide review of its management comes as the organisation faces big changes, including the establishment of two new digital free-to-air channels and the launch of a website offering TV show downloads from March.

Ralston was appointed in 2003 under former chief executive Ian Fraser, who welcomed his "bit of mongrel" attitude.

Ratings for TV One's flagship One News have since slid and several high-profile staff - including newsreaders Judy Bailey and Richard Long - have departed.

One senior TVNZ staff member told NZPA that Mr Ralston had to take the blame for the company's steep ratings decline.

"You have to look at what has happened to the place. He has presided over a quite staggering decline."

He said the blame for the decline had to be sheeted home to Mr Ralston for "destabilising" TVNZ by getting rid of newsreaders Judy Bailey and Richard Long and a list of others, including Paul Holmes, Mike Hosking and Alison Mau.

"Why? It can't be just money because it was quite clear Judy was worth her $800,000 as far as the marketing people were concerned.

"His decisions caused irreparable damage and the ratings went into freefall," the staff member said.

Not only did top presenters go, they took top producers and highly skilled technicians with them.

TVNZ has been struggling with declining viewership and loss of advertising. Its last annual report recorded a $9.4 million drop in advertising revenue.

In November, Mr Ellis told a parliamentary select committee that TVNZ was not meeting its budget and job losses were looming.


TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards confirmed that Mr Ralston's last day would be Friday.

"I would imagine he has a fair amount of loose ends to tidy up."

TVNZ would not be issuing a statement about the resignation, with the email to staff being the proper and "normal procedure" TVNZ followed whenever a senior member resigned, she said.

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