Judy Bailey is stepping down from her front-line news presenting role on One News.

TVNZ chief executive Ian Fraser said tonight that TVNZ had decided not to renew her contract.

"I hope to explore fresh options with her for next year, in roles that continue to make the best use of a major talent."

Bailey has been presenting One News for 18 years, making her TVNZ's longest serving news presenter.

She started out a fresh-faced young reporter and became the "Mother of the Nation" in a career that spanned more than 30 years at Television New Zealand.

Judy Bailey joined the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation in 1971 as a reporter in news and current affairs and nine years later joined John Hawkesby as co-presenter of regional news bulletin Top Half.

The succesful pairing (a television critic raved about their ability to brighten up the dullest of news programmes with their banter), was to be recycled more than a decade later.

Bailey was promoted to the coveted 6pm news bulletin in a major reshuffle that saw off veteran anchors Philip Sherry and Tom Bradley.

Although initially paired with Neil Billington, it was not long before Richard Long came on the scene in 1988.

A TVNZ biography would have you believe the pair lived happily behind the big newsreader's desk before Bailey went solo in 2004.

It fails to mention the fleeting reunion with Hawkesby in 1999, when TVNZ lured him from TV3 with a $700,000 salary, and Long was left out in the cold.

The public raged at his dumping and ratings slumped. Within six weeks Long was back at Bailey's side but a subsequent court case by Hawkesby cost TVNZ more than $5 million in compensation.

Bailey has not a hint of scandal about her and graced the covers of womens magazines for her charity work rather than sign up to stories about near-death experiences, children's milestones and relationships.

A trawl through her news files shows she once slipped up and called Drew Barrymore a "Tinseltown Tart" rather than a "Tinseltown Starlet".

And there was a naughty biker babe image for a charity calendar which had her looking saintly in jeans, t-shirt and a leather jacket flung over her shoulder.

Controversy came late in her career, with revelations of celebrity pay packets five years ago prompting Bailey on a public relations offensive to defend her salary.

Breaking her silence in a rare, on-the-record newspaper interview, Bailey called the figures, then said to be $560,000 a year, a gross exaggeration.

But she has said little about her $800,000 one-year contract which sparked a public outcry and demands from the Government for TVNZ to reign in figure. She was facing a $200,000-plus pay cut in 2006.

- STAFF REPORTER and NZPA