The departure of Kamahl Santamaria from TVNZ's Breakfast programme, after barely a month as a presenter, has excited a mild amount of public curiosity as to the reasons. None of it has been helped by TVNZ's guarded, almost monosyllabic, public statements about why he left. At first it was a "family emergency", then it was a "personal matter".
Other media were quick to talk of his quitting coming after complaints from a female staff member of 'inappropriate behaviour'. I guess, if that actually is the case, you could say it would be a highly personal matter that would have sparked a nasty family emergency in the Santamaria household, for sure.
There were other reports that TVNZ staff were unhappy at the hiring process of Santamaria by the head of news and current affairs, Paul Yurisich. He and Santamaria had previously worked together at the international news network Al Jazeera.
Whatever the deficiencies of that process may have been, it was obvious to me that Santamaria was not the man for that particular job. He appeared to lack empathy with his three co-presenters who, until now, have seemed a convivial bunch of best buddies. The three remaining were positively welded together on air when they acknowledged "changes" to the show, which apparently meant the disappearance of Santamaria.
The events have unfolded in classic TVNZ fashion. Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi was informed under the 'no surprises' policy. Quite what he was informed of is unclear, other than Faafoi says the situation is being managed appropriately "with the correct support in place for those involved". However, he did not say what the support was, who was involved and what they were involved in.
An external lawyer was said to have been brought in to monitor TVNZ's news coverage of the saga. Why he or she is needed is also unclear. Is the organisation wary of defamation in this matter? Is it worried about a story transgressing employment law? Does it not trust its internal team of lawyers in this matter?
At the time of writing, TVNZ's chief executive, former cabinet minister Simon Power, had remained publicly silent on the whole issue, as had the TVNZ board chairperson.
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From my experience in TVNZ management, albeit a decade or two back, the silence pertains only to comment made outside of the building. Inside, the board, chief executive and executive team will be running around like chooks with their heads cut off at the scrutiny being shown by their minister. The board will be nervous because the minister appoints them. Power will be jumpy because the board appoints him. The executives will fret because Power appoints them.
Interestingly, the pending $327 million merger of TVNZ with RNZ might provide future boards with some protection from political fear. The minister will be unable to remove board members for reasons related to editorial matters, although this current case appears to be more of an employment issue.
One thing that may temper the internal TVNZ panic is that Power is a former politician, well used to the searing heat of the media spotlight. He may inject some sanity into the whole affair. Rival media have dug into the matter with what may seem to be relish, detailing claims of similar behaviour and harassment at Al Jazeera. TVNZ has brought in an employment lawyer to analyse the hiring of Santamaria. Presumably, her report will be made public, eventually, which should ensure this will be a long-running saga, especially if the frontman was paid public money to go away.
Full disclosure is TVNZ's only way out.