MPs question top-heavy pay scale at TVNZ

NEIL REID
Last updated 05:00 08/04/2012
Craig Foss
Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss.

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State-funded broadcaster TVNZ has been accused of "income inequality", after revelations more than 10 per cent of its staff earn more than $100,000.

The highest salary is between $670,000 and $680,000, believed to be now-departed chief executive Rick Ellis.

The network's pay scale, along with details of staff bonuses, credit card limits and the number of staff issued with Koru Club membership, were detailed in written answers to Parliament's Commerce Committee while it was reviewing TVNZ's financial performance in the 2010/11 financial year.

The document has emerged as a host of government departments face increasing budget cuts and widespread redundancies.

Green Party broadcasting spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter called for the same spending "restraint" being sought in the public sector to be shown by the state-funded network.

"The numbers show the the top people are paid 50 times more than those staffing security or doing the cleaning," Genter said. "It's an example of what is happening in New Zealand. People who are earning the most are earning so much more than others. Are they really worth it? And is it economically and socially sustainable?"

The release also comes as the plug is pulled on TVNZ 7, with the channel's estimated $15 million annual operating budget at an end.

The document also shows that TVNZ paid $1.8m in staff bonuses in the 2010/11 financial year to members of its sales departments, CEO and senior management group. That included a single one-off payment of between $220,000 and $230,000.

Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss declined to comment on the salary bands, saying: "TVNZ is a Crown entity company and as such, is responsible for managing its own operations. It would be inappropriate for me to comment or interfere in operational decisions."

Foss cited the same reason for declining to comment on staff-issued credit cards, employee bonuses and Koru Club memberships, which include a sign-on fee of $155-$255 and a yearly subscription of $455-$506.

Genter said of TVNZ's 83 memberships: "I wasn't surprised but it doesn't mean it is right."

Labour broadcasting spokeswoman Clare Curran said she had "an issue" with the level of bonuses TVNZ had paid, and questioned the wisdom of such moves in a tough times.

"In the current environment, is it appropriate to be paying top executives bonuses while people are struggling?

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"There are questions to be asked about what is an acceptable amount to pay a CEO."

TVNZ has issued 127 staff with credit cards, 60 with $5000 limits, 32 at $10,000, 11 at $50,000 and two with $100,000 limits.

The document also confirms there will be no last-minute reprieve for TVNZ 7.

The committee asked officials if they were discussing continuing the channel beyond June, with the response being there were "no options under consideration".

"At the expiry of government funding for the public service channel TVNZ 7 at the end of June, the channel will cease to broadcast." That, officials said, would make "single digit" job losses "likely".

Genter said the decision had to be reversed to protect local content, calling on the government to provide a lifeline.

"Without putting money into niche areas we will see a real dumbing down of content. TVNZ 7 provides an important public service function, screening shows that are important in a healthy democracy."

Curran confirmed Labour was finalising a Private Member's Bill that would secure the channel's future, with the government funding its operational costs as TVNZ 7, and it operating independently from both TVNZ and the government.

"We don't believe it is a nice-to-have, we think it is a must-have for a functioning, healthy democracy," Curran said.

But Foss indicated a last-minute reprieve was unlikely.

He said the government was "committed" to supporting local content through NZ On Air, instead of directly funding single broadcasters.

"It is possible some of the programmes currently screening will continue to get NZ On Air funding and be screened on other channels," he said.

Foss said the government was satisfied with both TVNZ's performance financially – returning a $13.8m dividend at the close of the last financial year – and in providing "high-quality content".

The information provided to the committee revealed 12 staff from TVNZ's Avalon studios were made redundant after the relocation of production of Good Morning to Auckland.

Another two are expected to leave before the end of the month.

Four personal grievances were lodged by TVNZ staff members in the 2010/11 financial year, costing the broadcaster $82,000 in payments it did "not budget for".

BY THE NUMBERS

* TVNZ employs 952 staff, most paid between $40,000-$80,000, but with 139 from $100,000-$160,000, while eight are paid more than $350,000. The top salary is between $670,000-$680,000.

* $1.8 million paid in bonuses, including to sales staff, the CEO and senior executive group.

* The biggest one-off payment was between $220,000-$230,000.

* 127 staff have company credit cards – 60 with $5000 limits, 32 with $10,000 limits, 11 at $50,000 and two at $100,000.

* 83 staff have Air NZ Koru Club membership met by TVNZ.

* 64 have company cars, at a cost of $838,970.

* TVNZ made 67 people redundant, up 30 on 2010. Terminations cost $3.5 million, the most since restructuring in 2008 cost $5.2 million.

* The transfer of Good Morning from Avalon to Auckland cost 14 jobs. "Single digit" job losses will follow TVNZ 7's demise.

* Four personal grievances were lodged. Payouts totalled $82,000.

* The 2010-11 salary bill for in-house comms, media and PR was $362,000.

* TVNZ received a $1.3 million insurance payout when its Christchurch base was demolished after the February 2012 quake. A "business interruption" claim is outstanding.

- Sunday Star Times

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