TVNZ resources used in campaigning

Last updated 15:15 12/05/2014
Shane Taurima
Shane Taurima.

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A former Television New Zealand news and current affairs boss has been told to repay $333.43 linked to his Labour Party activities.

The direction came after a report said he and other staff at the State broadcaster used TVNZ resources extensively to campaign for Labour.

Shane Taurima, the former head of TVNZ's Maori and Pacific programmes department, confirmed today he still wanted to pursue the Labour Party's candidacy for Tamaki Makaurau after claiming he was vindicated by the report.

Taurima resigned after leaked emails suggested TVNZ premises had been used as a campaign base by Labour Party activists.

The emails detailed meetings on TVNZ premises among other activities.

The emails also implicated three other TVNZ staff in the Maori and Pacific programmes unit, production manager Natasha Panui-Morris, associate producer Maria Kuiti and digital content producer Aroha Mane.

Kuiti and Mane were reaching the ends of their contracts with TVNZ, and left about the same time as Taurima, while Panui-Morris departed later.

An independent inquiry today found that TVNZ resources including a meeting venue, travel, email and telephone and photocopying resources were used inappropriately for Labour Party political purposes, and detailed hundreds of email exchanges.

The report also identified $333.43 in travel costs which Taurima would be asked to reimburse because it related to Labour Party business.

The amount was for taxi and air fares to fly Heni Tawhiwhirangi from iwi radio who flew from Gisborne to Auckland. She attended a labour Party meeting at Taurima's home that night.

But the report cleared Taurima of political bias in his role as a TVNZ interviewer and programme manager.

Taurima said he believed the report removed "any doubts around my journalistic integrity and independence" and he would now seek to pursue his political ambitions.

"The review has determined what I know to be true - that I have always maintained a professional approach to my work and that I have not and would never allow my political views to affect my editorial or on screen work," he said.

"At no time did I use my position to influence TVNZ coverage to benefit the Labour Party."

Taurima has put forward his name for the Tamaki Makaurau electorate but requires a waiver from the Labour Party to proceed with his bid.

Labour leader David Cunliffe hadn't seen the report this afternoon and was reluctant to comment. He said it was a "serious report" but wouldn't say whether he wanted Taurima to join his caucus.

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He said the party's council would consider the report's findings within the next 24 hours.

"I'll be making my views very clear to our party council ... my views will be contingent on a close reading of the report and I have not had an opportunity to read [it]," he said.

"Prima facie there are some significant issues that the council need to address."

Cunliffe said that on "the face of it", using TVNZ resources for party business was not appropriate. Nor was signing an email "Secret Squirrel", but he wanted to read the report carefully.

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick said the independent report to TVNZ found that Taurima" 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," he said.

Kenrick said the report had identified roles in TVNZ's news and current affairs division where the review panel believed political party membership and active support for a political party was 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," Kenrick said.

"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." Staff would not be asked who they voted for "but we think it's reasonable to ask anyone who reports, edits or produces political content to be up-front 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 also found that TVNZ did not adequately document its discussions with Taurima when he returned to his job after unsuccessfully seeking Labour's Ikaroa Rawhiti candidacy.

"This allowed conflicting perceptions to develop around what constraints had been set on his private and professional activities."

Kenrick accepted there were shortcomings in the management of Taurima after his return to TVNZ and that would not happen again.

The report found:

* TVNZ resources, including a meeting venue, travel, email, telephone and photocopying resources were used "inappropriately" for Labour Party political purposes. Taurima must pay back the cost a taxi fare and flight, which was incurred for Heni Tawhiwhirangi. The flight was on the same day as a meeting at Taurima's home to establish two party branches

* A TVNZ meeting room was used for a Labur party branch meeting in August 2013

* Taurima and the other staff used TNVZ email for party purposes. Hundreds of emails from the three staff dealt with their activities, mostly involving a group of seven or eight party members

* The emails discussed setting up a branch, agendas, catering, minutes, enrolling friends and family, setting up a Facebook page, opening bank and email accounts, selling raffle tickets, starting a newsletter - all over an eight-month period

* Taurima accepted he was the "guiding hand" for activity and asked the three staff to join up over the next couple of days, with an online link

* There was "little doubt" Taurima and the staff used TVNZ phones for Labour party business but costs were negligible

* The emails took place during work hours and must have occupied "substantial time".

* Aroha Mane copied the Tamaki Makaurau electoral roll, borrowing it from the TVNZ library and using the broadcaster's photocopier. She said she thought it was journalistic research

* There was evidence Taurima tooks step to keep his activities confidential, signing a July email "secret squirrel" . Other emails between the four mentioned keeping "this on the down low" and the "need to remain cautious not to share too much of how Shane is involved"

* There is "mixed evidence" Taurima was forming a plan to stand in Tamaki Makaurau while still at TVNZ, including a draft speech written in July last year

* Taurima was involved in "extensive" Labour Party political activity after the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election and until his resignation in February, breaching a conflicts-of-interest policy

* TVNZ should have done more to "inquire further" about his activities, the report said

* Taurima's interviews on Q+A did not display bias

* There was an element of "deference" in political interviews on Te Karere, and interviewees tended to come from Labour, Mana or Maori Party, but the panel concluded this was not bias.

- Stuff

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