TVNZ manager says sorry for Labour links

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 17:25 18/02/2014

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TVNZ has appointed its head of legal and corporate affairs, Brent McAnulty, to investigate the use of its resources for Labour party business following revelations staff organised a Labour party meeting on the state-owned broadcaster's premises.

It's also reviewing the editorial independence of the Maori and Pacific Programming division during Shane Taurima's time as manager.

Taurima resigned yesterday after his ongoing role with Labour was revealed.

He had unsuccessfully sought Labour's nomination in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election last year, but had returned to TVNZ after missing out on the selection. However, he is also eyeing the Tamaki Makaurau seat for Labour at the general election.

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick said McAnulty would head a team that has access to all TVNZ internal resources.

A search has begun to identify a suitably qualified external person to provide an objective and independent critique of our editorial performance.

"This investigation will be conducted as a matter of priority, but it won't be a rush job, we're focused on carrying out a robust and comprehensive investigation that looks into this matter thoroughly."

The review findings and recommendations would be made public.

"Given our position as New Zealand's most watched news provider we hold ourselves to the highest standards of editorial independence and balance. Clearly a line has been crossed here - it's unacceptable and we make no excuses for what's happened."

The focus now was on establishing what happened, how it happened and how to stop it happening again.

Kenrick said many people are asked why Taurima was kept on in an editorial role following his unsuccessful bid for the Ikaroa Rawhiti candidacy .

"The answer is, at the time we sought and received assurances from Shane that he had no further political ambitions. When asked to choose between journalism and politics, he chose journalism. With the benefit of hindsight that decision was a mistake."

TVNZ has appointed Raewyn Rasch as acting general manager of Maori and Pacific Programmes.

Taurima has apologised for compromising the editorial integrity of the state broadcaster.

In a statement he said he had resigned with "regret and sadness" after it was revealed he had been involved in Labour campaign activities while working for TVNZ.

But he "categorically denied" his actions had any influence on TVNZ's reporting.

Documents obtained by 3 News suggest up to three other staff at the Maori and Pacific unit used TVNZ resources to campaign for Labour.

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The documents included an agenda for an August 6 meeting of Labour's Tamaki Makaurau electorate committee held at TVNZ's Auckland premises, where those attending had to be swiped through security.

Details of a separate January 18 hui at which Taurima facilitated a session on how to win the Maori vote were also leaked.

The January 18 hui was attended by Labour leader David Cunliffe and other MPs but was held at a marae, not at TVNZ.

This morning Cunliffe said Taurima's actions were a "lapse in judgement".

"It's now a matter for him and his former employer, and I'm sure that he realises that."

Taurima, who previously worked on political current affairs show Q+A, insisted he had kept his political activities separate from his work with the state broadcaster.

"However, questions have been raised that have brought into question the integrity of the crucial work of my colleagues at TVNZ. This is unfair and unacceptable and as a result I have resigned."

He said any criticisms describing TVNZ staff as "activists" were not true.

"They are passionate friends and people that I love and respect who committed to provide some support to me. They are wonderful people whose enthusiasm led to some poorly considered decisions," he said.

Prime Minister John Key said the revelations would be embarrassing for TVNZ, but not a disaster.

"It's not a good look for the state broadcaster because it leaves the impression of bias, even though we know that's not true, in defence of Television New Zealand. TVNZ head of news and current affairs John Gillespie said Taurima had been upfront with TVNZ about the fact he was considering a run at Tamaki Makaurau. Labour nominations for the seat close on February 28.

"He briefed us last week, and today he has made a call to resign from TVNZ while he considers his political future," Gillespie said in a statement shortly after Taurima's resignation.

"We did not know about his involvement in the January 18 hui and I have stressed to Shane that this is a serious lapse of judgement. Our editorial independence is paramount at any time, election year or not. "

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she was treated unfairly by Taurima.when he grilled her on youth unemployment, in April 2012 on Sunday morning current affairs show Q+A.

"I felt that it was actually really biased," Bennett told reporters this morning.

"I came out of there and couldn't work out whether it was anti-National, anti-me, I don't know what it was."

Bennett says her office emailed TVNZ producers after the interview to raise concerns, but she didn't make a formal complaint.

Justice Minister Judith Collins also felt Taurima had been unfair.

"The Shane Taurima issue, when I saw that, I thought 'that explains a lot'," Collins said.

But New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said he had a lot of time for Taurima and he had always been professional in interviews with him.

"But the whole image does not look good and it's sad," he said.

He said in Maoridom "we haven't got that many ... who understand that before they try and be a Maori they want to be the top professional whether it be a lawyer, doctor or in this case journalist. And that aspiration is one  which in this case hasn't been lived up to."

He said there was no need for an independent inquiry.

'"We all know the facts don't we. They used taxpayer money to support a political party."

He said other journalists had also done that.

"There was a time circa 1999 when a group of journalists in the press gallery were meeting Helen Clark every Sunday afternoon and many of you know that to be a fact," he told reporters.

But six current political reporters, who have worked in the press gallery since 1999, today said as far as they were aware that was not so.

- Fairfax Media

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