John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan: TVNZ can't push staff on political views

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Kevin Kenrick, chief executive of TVNZ in Auckland. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Richard Robinson.
Kevin Kenrick, chief executive of TVNZ in Auckland. New Zealand Herald Photograph by Richard Robinson.

Television New Zealand is unlikely to prod staff about their political affiliations despite controversial proposals put to politicians by TVNZ chief executive and Kevin Kenrick.

The state broadcaster is struggling to emerge from damage caused by the Shane Taurima affair, leading to attacks on its independence during an election year.

Amidst attacks from government MPs Kenrick's call at the takes the state broadcaster from blase under manager to overreaction.

But the idea has been greeted with derision among staff and the State Services Commission has effectively ruled it out and the Human Rights Commission has pointed to problems.

TVNZ spokeswoman Megan Richards said Kenrick's views were personal and a response to a query. TVNZ policy would be decided around an independent inquiry that would report next month. But the idea of asking TVNZ staff their politics rang warning bells and illustrated Kenrick's lack of knowledge in his role as editor-in-chief of the country's biggest newsroom.

More to the point - staff told the Herald - the failure that led to Taurima's conflict - heading the Maori unit while seeking the Labour nomination for Tamaki Makaurau - was a failure of management not staff.

TVNZ has plenty of provisions available to check conflicts of interest, they just were not utilised, staff told the Herald.

Taurima's continuing role seeking the Labour Party nomination for Tamaki Makaurau was common knowledge in media circles and had even been reported by rival broadcaster TV3.

State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie said it would inappropriate under the rules for the state sector if TVNZ required its staff to disclose their political affiliations.

The Human Rights Commission has also pointed to restrictions on that sort of intrusion.

The TVNZ board is keeping a watch at how management handles this crisis and concerns that led to two staff making up phony tweets for a news item on social media bullying.

Last week TVNZ chairman Wayne Walden told the Herald the board was happy with the way the issues had been handled " at this point" and pressure is falling on management for not detecting Taurima's conflict.

TVNZ has indicated it is serious getting an objective inquiry but its not clear how it will handle a report that finds serious problems. Earlier Walden told the Herald that the board was keeping an eye on developments in the news and current affairs operation but was happy how they were being handled at the moment.

Stephen Franks, of public law firm Franks Ogilvie, said Kenrick's comments reflected the human resources view of managing the issue and how human resources was removed from the real world. Requiring staff to acknowledge Party membership was irrelevant because the most politically passionate people did not join parties but still had a bias. The issue was about management.

Signing forms did not matter.

"Traditionally news organisations focused on bullshit detectors. There has always been an element of journalists wanting to be evangelistic."

New Zealand Herald editor-in-chief Tim Murphy said the APN Editorial Code of Ethics was that: 'Journalists must not participate in community or political activities that compromise their work or their publisher's credibility or objectivity'.

"So we would certainly not expect any journalist who is a staffer to be a member or activist or public supporter -- of a political party.

"We don't, and won't, go around asking people how they vote," he said.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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