Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

No repeat of interference at NZ on Air - chairwoman

Miriam Dean. Photo / Richard Robinson
Miriam Dean. Photo / Richard Robinson

NZ On Air's board chairwoman Miriam Dean is confident there will be no repeat of attempts to stop any controversial political documentary screening in the lead up to the election this year and she would prevent a board member close to Prime Minister John Key from taking part if any such project came before them for funding.

In 2011, there was controversy over a NZ on Air funded documentary on child poverty which screened four days before the election after NZ on Air board member Steven McElrea, who was also Mr Key's electorate chairman, had raised concerns about the timing of it.

At the commerce select committee, Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove said there was a real issue where a member of the NZ on Air board which had responsibility for funding television programmes and documentaries had strong political affiliations.

Ms Dean said since becoming chairwoman she had taken steps to ensure any board member was excluded from involvement over funding for a programme if they had a real or perceived conflict of interest.

"It is certainly my policy to ensure any board member does not take part in any decision if he or she has a real or perceived conflict. And if I considered Mr McElrea had even a perceived conflict as a result of his political role, I can assure you I would be very clear that Mr McElrea should not participate in that decision."

She said in the past year Mr McElrea had not had to recuse himself for any political conflict of interest, although he had been excluded from one decision because a family member was involved in the production of it. She said she also believed that all board members should leave their politics at the door, had conveyed that to them and would remind them again at their next meeting.

She did not believe there were any politically loaded documentaries scheduled to run in the lead up to the election, although NZ on Air had no control over the content of documentaries or broadcasters' decisions on when to screen them.

The Inside Child Poverty incident prompted calls from Labour for Mr McElrea to be sacked from the board, where he had some power over its funding decisions. Mr McElrea was re-appointed to the board in December last year. Ms Dean said that was a decision for the Minister of Broadcasting and she had no say in it. However, she said Mr McElrea did have the necessary broadcasting and accounting experience and now headed the audit committee.

Ms Wrightson and Ms Dean were also asked about a dip in the funding granted for national television programmes over the past year. Ms Dean said it was partly because more money was going toward digital media funding and because the agency had not been given any funded increases for the past few years.

- NZ Herald

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