Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson has acknowledged his comments in an interview concerning plans to merge TVNZ and RNZ were a “misstep” and he has apologised.
Jackson appeared on TVNZ’s Sunday morning politics show, Q+A, where he was questioned by host Jack Tame on the Government’s aim to create a single public media entity by combining TVNZ and RNZ.
Asked about the public trust in the new entity, Jackson criticised Tame for conducting what he perceived as “such a negative interview” and said he was “disappointed” in the host.
Jackson also cast doubt over the future of Q+A, saying Tame could soon become the frontman of Treasure Island as his existing show might not be sustainable without the merger, Jackson believed.
“You might end up there because there might be no Q+A the way that we’re going, because the audiences are declining, the revenue is declining,” Jackson said.
On Sunday, National broadcasting and media spokesperson Melissa Lee described the interview as a “trainwreck”.
“The way he talked on Q+A is a clear sign he intends on interfering with the culture, operations and decisions of the new entity while having political influence over it,” Lee said on Sunday.
Jackson’s comments prompted an intervention from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who yesterday confirmed she had spoken to her Broadcasting Minister about his comments.
Ardern said she didn’t agree with some of the comments, particularly those that could be interpreted as being in opposition to the Government’s “strong” stance on editorial independence.
Ardern believed Jackson was still fit to be the Broadcasting Minister and felt his comments didn’t undermine the merger’s intention to change New Zealand’s public media in line with an evolving media landscape.
Jackson, speaking to media this morning, wouldn’t divulge what was said between him and Ardern, except to say her concerns were expressed.
“We had a good talk yesterday and it’s all good,” he said.
Asked if he understood editorial independence, Jackson said it was “incredibly important” and apologised if his comments indicated otherwise.
“There’s no intention to interfere in terms of anything with regard to the new entity and if it came across like that in the interview then I’m sorry because the reality is editorial independence is everything.”
He acknowledged his tone during the interview might not have been appropriate considering the topics being discussed.
“The reality is I’ve got a certain style, it works most of the time but obviously didn’t go too well on Sunday.
“Along the way, there’s always a misstep and clearly given the response from media, it was a misstep.”
While he regretted the interview, Jackson didn’t back down on the merger, saying it was about “future-proofing media” in light of declining revenues and audiences for TVNZ and RNZ.
This morning, Lee wouldn’t answer whether she believed Jackson should be sacked as Broadcasting Minister, saying it was a matter for Jackson and Ardern.
She doubled down on her criticism of Jackson’s interview.
“This is the whole thing, it’s about editorial independence of journalists and he as a minister of broadcasting should know how newsrooms actually operate and that is [the journalist’s] job to ask questions of the minister and for [Jackson] to criticise was quite concerning.”
Lee confirmed National would wind back the merger, regardless of how far it had progressed, if it won next year’s general election.
“After the select committee process, I have actually come to the conclusion that that is something that we need to reverse.”
Ardern, speaking to media this morning, said there were multiple reasons in favour of the merger, noting it was important to ensure the mediums utilised by RNZ and TVNZ were done so efficiently.