TVNZ hires Australian to run news

By James Ihaka

Television New Zealand has appointed an Australian to head its struggling news division.

Anthony Flannery, managing editor of the Nine Network's flagship programme A Current Affair, will start as head of news and current affairs at TVNZ next month. He replaces Bill Ralston, who resigned this year as TVNZ planned a restructuring which will see 59 jobs lost in the department.

One News is the highest-rating news show nationally but lost ratings ground to TV3 during Ralston's tenure, particularly in the key Auckland market.

TVNZ's head of television Jeff Latch welcomed the appointment, saying Flannery had a strong broadcast journalism background, was hands-on and practical.

"Anthony also understands about producing news for a variety of media platforms, which is critical to the delivery of TVNZ's new five-year strategic plan," he said.

Flannery's appointment could be seen as a move to bolster the network's news ratings, but the Nine Network he comes from is struggling to meet its rival Seven's challenge in news programmes. April figures from Australian television ratings manager Oztam showed A Current Affair did not rank in the top-20 programmes while Seven news had two shows in the top 10.

The Australian media critic, Mark Day, said yesterday that Nine's news programmes had rated behind Seven's for two years. "Seven has generally been winning the news, they started with the occasional win which became more gradual until they got momentum and are now leading the way."

Channel 9's former director of news, Paul Fenn, was surprised by Flannery's decision to leave Australia but said he would bring a "very much Nine Network approach to the job".

"I would hope that he would be reporting the main stories of the day, quickly and thoroughly when they break, making the most of them and making the quiet days look very busy," said Fenn.

Asked whether Flannery could bolster the station's ratings, Fenn said: "It's not for me to say what he may or may not have picked up since I left the network and I think it would be unfair for me to do so."

Canterbury University's head of political science and communications, Jim Tully, said it was a "big ask"for Flannery to turn One News ratings around.

Figures from AGB Nielsen showed that in February it was behind 3 News in both the 18-49 and 25-54 age groups nationally.

"I suspect TVNZ will never get back to the dominant position they had in the 90s," said Mr Tully.

TV3 head of news Mark Jennings was disappointed TVNZ could not fill the role with one of its own staff.

"I think there is a lot of experience and some very good people in there that could have done the job."

Jennings said Flannery would be TVNZ's seventh head of news in 12 years.

Flannery was a newspaper journalist and a press secretary for Australian Labor MP David Simmons in the 1980s. He joined the Nine Network in 1995 and had a variety of jobs, including senior producer and executive producer of its main 6pm news and executive producer of the morning news programme Today.

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