Drama over du Plessis-Allan departure smacks of poor management
The seemingly fraught circumstances of Heather du Plessis-Allan's departure from TV3 owner MediaWorks could be put down to a misunderstanding in a high-pressure environment, insiders say.
Story host du Plessis-Allan was ordered off air after she gave an interview on Sunday, in which she indicated she knew in July that the prime-time current affairs show would be axed.
Broadcaster Bill Ralston, who now runs his own communications company, believed any suggestion that the fate of the show had been sealed so long ago could have put MediaWorks' human relations department in a tight spot – for example with employees it subsequently hired for the show.
But he said du Plessis-Allan's foresight was probably the deduction of an experienced journalist, rather than pointing at inside knowledge of a management decision.
"It was probably a poor use of the word 'knew' [but] in television, you can smell the death of a programme coming.
"I think you can be pretty sure that's what happened." MediaWorks had not sought to negotiate non-disclosure agreements with journalists and editors who had left the broadcaster, he said.
MediaWorks announced on Tuesday that du Plessis-Allan would be leaving MediaWorks and that it would not require her to work out her notice.
The abrupt arrangement has rekindled memories of the revolving door of top journalists, including John Campbell, during the tenure at MediaWorks of former chief executive Mark Weldon.
Ralston said MediaWorks' news head Hal Crafword was probably unlikely to have experienced such a high pressure environment.
His background, prior to joining MediaWorks in February, was in online news in Australia.
"He came out of a happy world of online television."
Coalition for Better Broadcasting (CBB) spokesman Myles Thomas said culture factors might have been at play.
"Australians are pretty cut and dried about these things, unlike Kiwis who sometimes try to be too nice. [It's a] bit of a shame really."
Thomas said Story always had a limited time to prove itself.
"That time has come to an end and it will be replaced by some other ratings-focussed current affairs programme."
The CBB's concern was "where audiences come in all this", he said.
"Story made very light current affairs, and the sneery and kneejerk style didn't build any type of loyalty.
"New Zealand still needs and deserves nightly television current affairs that is about information rather than entertainment," he said.
"There is a huge gap in the market for a current affairs show that treats viewers and subjects with intelligence, warmth and respect, and that chases the 'boring but important' stories."
Thomas said the drama surrounding du Plessis-Allan's smacked of "not particularly great media management" at TV3. "It is another ignominious departure."