Call for McElrea to resign from NZ On Air

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 17:38 08/02/2012

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The Prime Minister's electorate chair sat on a working group of four that decided to commit hundreds of thousands of dollars to a documentary about the Government's controversial Whanau Ora scheme.

The documentary Whanau Ora was allocated $299,963 of cash from NZ on Air as a result of a meeting attended by Stephen McElrea in November last year.

McElrea is the National Party electorate chair in Helensville and was appointed to the board of NZ on Air by the National-led government. Prime Minister John Key is the MP for Helensville.

Minutes of the November 10 meeting attended by McElrea state that Whanau Ora would be "a behind the scenes look at the roll out of this new initiative that seeks to deliver positive social outcomes for Maori".

Subsequent emails between McElrea and two fellow NZ on Air staff show that it was agreed the documentary should run for between one and one and a half hours.

Two other documentaries would also be funded. High School would be "the inside story of New Zealand education observed through a school year ..." Another, The Health Story, would be "an examination of NZ's health system through the eyes of Queenstown Hospital".

An agreement signed in September said each of the documentaries would screen between 6pm and 8.30pm on TV3 or FOUR three times over the next four years. TV3 's head of factual programming Sue Woodfield would "be viewing early footage to confirm project is on the right track".

Minutes from an earlier May 26 meeting of the working group show some 62 proposals for funding were put to the working group.

Four projects were chosen to submit full proposals, including Whanau Ora. At that meeting, Whanau Ora was pitched as looking at "how successful this new initiative will be in assisting NZ's most deprived families".

Support for the documentary would be subject to "a suitable executive producer being attached to the project and a reworked treatment".

Labour's broadcasting spokeswoman, Clare Curran, tabled the documents revealing McElrea's involvement in Parliament today.

Curran said McElrea should resign or be removed from the NZ on Air board in order for the agency to retain any integrity regarding its funding decisions and its function as the public broadcasting funding body.

"Clearly the balance isn't right. The public deserves to know that it can trust the integrity of its institutions to spend tax-payers' money ethically and that its members behave wisely," Curran said.

There has been criticism of McElrea's position on the board after it was revealed he was concerned over the broadcast of a documentary about child poverty one week out from the election.

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Key has admitted McElrea's appointment was "political" in nature but said he supported it because McElrea added value and brought experience to NZ on Air.

"By definition all appointments of that nature are political because they are made by politicians," Key said last month.

But Curran said the latest revelations about McElrea showed a clear conflict of interest and political influence within NZ on Air.

- Stuff

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