John Drinnan: TVNZ board should look at management

Photo / Wayne Drought
Photo / Wayne Drought

State TV bosses point proudly to improved ratings, but signs are, that after a succession of problems, TVNZ journalist morale is numbed.

Last week, in a snub to its journalists, TVNZ took the extraordinary step of appointing a non-journalist, operations man Lindsay Chalmers, to fill in for head of news and current affairs John Gillespie.

The operations man oversaw the editorial output for what is arguably the country's biggest newsroom.

Gillespie returns next week but under another restructure he is expected to take over a role deciding what is shown on current affairs programmes.

That includes programmes like Fair Go and Sunday.

More journalist jobs are expected to go and the tabloid magazine programme 20/20 will no longer have local content.

All media are battling huge changes in the industry.

But in my opinion something has gone awry at TVNZ. The latest restructuring there is worrying.

In my opinion problems arise from a severe lack of understanding of news and current affairs in the top management tier at TVNZ, starting with the CEO and editor-in-chief Kevin Kenrick. The company seems to be making bold decisions at a contentious time for the future of news.

That was apparent with senior management's role last year in the ill-fated early days of SevenSharp -- which was subject to the meddling of both management and marketers. Its ratings are better focused on right wing broadcaster Mike Hoskings.

Meanwhile, critics say that news management has not asserted leadership.

After the mis-management of the Shane Taurima issue journalists are being asked about their politics and management is looking at ways to impose a new risk assessment system to avoid potential problems with covering news.

The ratings obviously count a lot, but so too does professional profile and scoops on TVNZ news and current affairs seem to be few and far between.

Over the years talent has been ignored, with star reporter Lisa Owen defecting to TV3,

Few media people would like to see a government appointed board like TVNZ's meddle with news and current affairs.

But in my opinion the appointment of a non-journalist to oversee editorial decisions for current affairs takes TVNZ beyond the pale,

It is a sign that the state broadcaster has rejected journalism.

If chairman Wayne Walden does not ask questions about that it will be apparent that the board wants the TVNZ newsroom to continue in this direction.

Two others on the Board could advise him.

Deputy chairman Joan Withers had a creditable record of being pro-editorial when she was chief executive of Fairfax New Zealand and she started her career on a community newspaper.

Board member Richard Long also has long and record as as a brave political journalist who challenged Rob Muldoon and then led the Dominion newspaper.

- NZ Herald

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John Drinnan has been 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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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