The appointment of the country's most powerful media boss is likely to be a drawn-out affair, with the architects of the merged RNZ and TVNZ now mulling appointing an interim chief executive ahead of the new public broadcaster's public debut in July 2023.
The merger of the two state-owned broadcasters, which between them employ nearly 1000 staff and attract hundreds of thousands of eyeballs and eardrums, is expected to take almost a year to culminate.
In late July legislation establishing the new entity - the Aotearoa New Zealand Public Media Bill - passed its first reading, with a road map from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage stating that the legislation is slated to proceed through select committee and a third reading to become active before March 1, 2023.
This March milestone will enable the appointment of a new board and an incubation period ahead of the new entity emerging into the world and marketplace in July next year. Crucially, only this new board is legally able to appoint a new chief executive - leaving a vacuum over nearly four months, during which the board will have to be installed and then sprint to run a recruitment process.
Establishment board chairwoman Tracey Martin - with caveats that underlying legislation is subject to change and yet to be passed, and that discussions on how to navigate through the next six months are ongoing - said her board had been formally meeting monthly, with subcommittees meeting every fortnight, to provide advice to Minister of Broadcasting and Media Willie Jackson on how best to proceed.
"We haven't finished that advice, we're still working on it. But one of the things that all of the people sitting around this table are in agreement on, is that nobody should pre-empt the entity's board prerogative to employ a chief executive. They have to do it," she said.
"It may very well be that there needs to be a process that an interim chief executive can be put in place between March and July, which gets the entity through to its start date."
The Herald understands discussions so far favour an interim role heavily geared as caretaker, potentially excluding incumbent chief executives - who are likely to be among the front-runners for the new head role - from getting a head start.
The chief executive's job is likely to be one of the best-remunerated in the wider state sector, with the role's additional responsibilities possibly resulting in a bump over the TVNZ chief executive's $1.55 million pay packet reported in 2020. (Over at RNZ, their chief executive reportedly earned $520,000.)
TVNZ chief executive Simon Power and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson were cautious when approached about their ambitions this week - understandably so, given that the job on offer can't even be advertised for at least six months.
Thompson, a former editor of the Press and then Fairfax (later Stuff) editor-in-chief, has headed Radio New Zealand since 2013 and expressed interest in being involved in the new setup.
"I'm really pleased about the public media focus of the new entity and I believe it's going to be an exciting opportunity. While it is still some way off and my focus is on getting RNZ ready for the future, I can say that I'm hoping to be able to contribute to the new entity," he said.
Power held senior roles in the first-term Cabinet of John Key's National Government and later in banking after he jumped to Westpac New Zealand and rose to become acting chief executive of the Australian financial giant's New Zealand operations. In November he again switched industries and was appointed TVNZ chief executive.
Several industry sources said Power had been making his presence felt at TVNZ and seemed unlikely to relinquish his ambitions so soon after becoming a media mogul.
His comments about the upcoming chief executive race - "the future chief executive role is the furthest thing from my mind" - perhaps reflect a background in political caucuses where leadership tussles and ambitions are carefully managed.
"I'm focused on ensuring TVNZ delivers to its current mandate strongly so the new entity gets off to the best start possible. The leadership of the new entity is a decision for the board once it is appointed early in 2023, and there's a lot to do in the meantime before looking any further ahead," Power said.