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TVNZ report risks further action

The inquiry into TVNZ’s former GM of the Maori and Pacific unit, Shane Taurima, was issued this afternoon. At first glance, one of its recommendations seems to contravene employment rules.

The inquiry was announced in the wake of allegations Taurima had used TVNZ facilities to conduct Labour Party business and demonstrated bias in reporting under his control.

Announcing the review back in February, TVNZ Chief Executive Kevin Kenrick said, “We’re committed to a thorough, transparent and fair review process.” The broadcaster’s own Head of Legal and Corporate Affairs, Brent McAnulty, led the review team, which comprised media law specialist Steven Price and Radio Broadcasters Association Chief Executive Bill Francis.

The review’s headline findings were that Taurima’s reporting did not display bias, but that he did conduct labour Party business at work, although the “financial cost involved was negligible.”
Taurima will be asked to reimburse $334 of air and taxi fares as a rsult of his actions.

The interesting issue is a review recommendation, apparently accepted by TVNZ according to the TVNZ statement, that NCA employees “whose roles require them to report, edit or produce political content cannot be members of political parties, or engage in political activity for a party or cause”.

It sets the broadcaster on a collision course with human rights legislation. In the aftermath of Taurima’s resignation, Kenrick spoke to a parliamentary committee on the issue, saying the broadcaster might look at preventing people with known affiliations from certain jobs.

He cited presenter Tamati Coffey (who was, like Taurima, seeking a Labour Party nomination) as someone whom TVNZ would not employ going forward.

However, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination against someone on the grounds of their political views, as it does on the grounds of race, sexuality a bunch of other criteria.

In an interview with the Dom Post, employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk addressed the issue of seeking information on existing or prospective employees’ political views, saying, “If you asked after they’ve been engaged you have to be careful not to be seen to be discriminating on that basis. You couldn’t refuse to put them into any job because of that.”

Which appears to be exactly what TVNZ proposes to do.

The full report is here. The TVNZ statement follows:

TVNZ RELEASES REVIEW REPORT
TVNZ’s Chief Executive, Kevin Kenrick, says he accepts the findings of the review panel commissioned to investigate allegations of political bias, the misuse of TVNZ resources and conflicts of interest. Mr Kenrick says TVNZ will immediately take steps to tighten internal protocols, as recommended, to protect the editorial independence of its news.

The full report, released today, has been published on the TVNZ website.

The report finds that Shane Taurima, former General Manager of TVNZ’s Māori and Pacific Programmes department, failed to adequately disclose extensive party political activity during his final year with the company. However, it did not find any evidence of bias in any TVNZ programming.

It found that TVNZ resources were used inappropriately for Labour Party political purposes by Mr Taurima and three members of his staff – none of whom are still employed by TVNZ.

CEO Kevin Kenrick says: “We asked the review panel for an objective and independent review. The report is comprehensive, the conclusions are balanced, and the proposed recommendations are very actionable.”
The report has identified roles in TVNZ’s News and Current Affairs division where the review panel believes political party membership and active support for a political party is untenable. These are roles that carry significant editorial influence and include political reporters, senior content producers, editors and news managers, and the Chief Executive as Editor in Chief.

“What happened was completely unacceptable. It’s an absolute necessity for our News and Current Affairs service to operate free from political influence. We already have a number of checks and balances in place to protect the integrity of news coverage and the review panel has identified additional steps we should take to further strengthen our management of political conflicts of interest.”

“We won’t be asking our staff to tell us who they vote for. But we think it’s reasonable to ask anyone who reports, edits or produces political content to be upfront with us if they’re a member of a political party. Anyone who creates news content for TVNZ should disclose any political activity beyond passive party membership.”

The review finds that TVNZ did not adequately document its discussions with Taurima when he returned to his job after his unsuccessful bid for Labour’s Ikaroa-Rāwhiti candidacy. This allowed conflicting perceptions to develop around what constraints had been set on his private and professional activities, the report says.

“I accept that there were shortcomings in our management of Shane when he returned to TVNZ, and that won’t happen again.”

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