A NZ On Air board member has resigned after making a social media post calling new Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters’ attacks on media independence “malicious” and him “the worst of this gang of thugs”.
The comment comes after Peters on Monday and yesterday attacked the media and made inaccurate statements about public funding, even including accusations of taking bribes.
The new Government was sworn in on Monday.
NZ On Air board member Andrew Shaw, a screen sector consultant who has worked as a television host, yesterday posted on social media: “Winston Peters attack’s independence of media [sic]. He’s not truthful. He’s not accurate. He’s malicious and he is here on behalf of international tobacco. His return is the worst of this gang of thugs.”
After questions from Newshub to NZ On Air about the post it disappeared.
NZ On Air is a Crown entity that funds broadcasting and creative works. Its board members must keep to a code of conduct, which includes political impartiality.
The commission operates largely separate from government policy but must follow directions from the Minister of Broadcasting.
In a statement to the Herald, Shaw said he “unreservedly apologises” for his comments about Peters.
Shaw’s comments came soon after the new Government’s first Cabinet meeting yesterday got off to a tense start as Peters again accused the media of taking bribes.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was asked about Peters’ attacks on the media, made at Government House on Monday, in which he accused the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF), a Labour Government initiative, of being a bribe to the media sector.
The PIJF supported discrete media projects, such as episodes of The Detail podcast, and temporarily funded certain jobs within the media sector, including local democracy reporters, who covered mainly local government in regional New Zealand.
NZME, publisher of the Herald, received money from the fund for both projects and to fund roles like local democracy reporters.
Applicants to the Public Interest Journalism Fund were asked, that when appropriate in producing funded content, to support NZ identity, culture and public interest requirements, including support for the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
However, overriding this in NZME’s funding agreements - in a clause specifically requested by the company - is an acknowledgement of the absolute editorial independence of the media entity: “We acknowledge the importance of your editorial discretion as a media entity and confirm nothing in this Agreement will limit or in any way impede or influence the ability of your news reporting functions to report and comment on news stories and current events, including those involving us, as you see fit.”
”Didn’t see those comments, but I’m excited to get to work with this team here and get things done for New Zealand,” Luxon said.
Peters interjected as Luxon ushered for media to leave and proceedings to get under way.
”Before you go — can you possibly tell the public what you had to sign up to to get the money, it’s called transparency,” Peters said.
Luxon was asked about those comments but did not respond. Fellow Cabinet ministers shuffled awkwardly in their seats.
Meanwhile, Act leader David Seymour called Peters’ claims “not quite plausible” and “not passing the sniff test” speaking to Newstalk ZB’s Heather du Plessis Allan last night.
“I would make the point that $55 million over two years in a billion-dollar industry, the idea that all the journalists in New Zealand were corrupted by 2 per cent of revenue - for me, it doesn’t pass the sniff test,” he said.
Seymour did remain critical of the PIJF in principle, though, saying it was a “very silly policy” as he didn’t believe media should be taking money from a government it would be holding to account.
“We need a free and independent press, especially one that is unafraid to hold the Government accountable, and it should not be taking money from that same Government,” he said.
On Pharmac, Seymour, who has assumed responsibility for the public drug-buying agency, says the culture there “needs to change” in light of recent comments from its CEO Sarah Fitt.
In the coalition deal with National, Seymour managed to secure responsibility for Pharmac through his Associate Health Minister portfolio, which would normally rest with the Health Minister.
Seymour was speaking in response to questions around Fitt and if she should continue in her role given her recent conduct, which included emails about journalist Rachel Smalley and her campaigning efforts to reform the drug-funding entity that were heavily criticised by former Health Minister Ayesha Verrall, her own board chair and the Public Service Commissioner.
He also declined to comment on the future of board chair Steve Maharey, a former Labour Government Cabinet minister who was first appointed in 2018. Maharey has not responded to requests from the Herald for comment.
Seymour will have powers to appoint and nominate Pharmac board members at his discretion. It is the board that appoints the chief executive.
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster had his first meeting with new Police Minister Mark Mitchell yesterday, saying afterwards that he had not offered to resign and believed he had Mitchell’s confidence in the role.
The police commissioner is appointed on the recommendation of the prime minister. Coster’s term ends in April 2025.
He told the Herald after the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, that he was confident he and Mitchell could work together well. He said he had not offered to resign.
In opposition, Mitchell was a critic of Coster’s style of police leadership.
Thus far, neither Mitchell nor Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has expressed confidence in Coster or been willing to comment on whether they want him to remain in the role.