RNZ begins defence in Snowdon case

Last updated 13:18 03/12/2013

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An obsession had blinded a former Radio New Zealand managing editor to the reality and facts of an employment dispute so that it had been sustained over many years, the Employment Court has been told.

In Wellington today the state broadcaster has begun its defence to the claim of Lynne Snowdon.

Its lawyer, Michael Quigg, said Snowdon had spent millions of dollars pursuing claims of alleged fraud, freely and repeatedly made.

She had to take responsibility for the actions of her advisers, one of whom alleged he had found 239,051 separate instances of crime contained in the RNZ accounts, Quigg said.

Snowdon was on sick leave from her job for two years and three months before she was dismissed in April 2005.

She alleges the news budget at RNZ was underfunded and it was not given the money it should have been under a contract with New Zealand On Air.

Quigg said the allegations were denied and evidence called for by Snowdon contained "not one scintilla" of evidence to support the allegation of fraud by RNZ.

Former chief executive Sharon Crosbie had hired Snowdon and Crosbie had repeatedly told Snowdon about the importance of living within the budget allocated for news and properly accounting for the money spent on news.

The real story was one of a senior manager who wanted a larger budget for her division and was disappointed when she was not successful, Quigg said.

She would have had that in common with many managers but most would have accepted the decision and got on with it. However, Snowdon was unable or unwilling to operate within the budget, he said.

Instead of accepting her responsibility as a senior manager she had spent 13 years developing an ever-changing array of fanciful and highly damaging conspiracy theories to absolve herself from the responsibility of managing the news division within its budget, he said.

Her claims of unjustified disadvantage, unjustified dismissal, and fraud, had been sustained over the years by an obsession that had blinded her to the reality and the facts of the matter, Quigg said.

It was not that the case was primarily due to a falling out of two mature women, as some had said. Radio New Zealand had been locked into the proceedings despite its best endeavours to extricate itself, Quigg said.

"It is conscious of the use of public money that this matter has consumed and continues to consume."

The parties had been to mediation at least five times and early on it had made an offer to settle.

"Ms Snowdon not only rejected the settlement offer but in fact referred it to the police".

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Quigg said the fraud allegations were baseless and were the result of a flawed analysis of RNZ's contractual obligations with NZ On Air. In making the fraud allegations she had relied almost totally on advisers despite several senior lawyers warning her against pursuing them.

The influence of Snowdon's husband, lawyer John Hickling, in the ongoing litigation could not be underestimated, he said.

The case is due to last for several more weeks.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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