Taurima was unfair to me - Bennett

ANDREA VANCE, STACEY KIRK AND MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 12:13 18/02/2014

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Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says she was treated unfairly by TVNZ interviewer Shane Taurima.

The TVNZ unit manager resigned from the state broadcaster yesterday after it was revealed he took part in a Labour Party hui, and that TVNZ property was used to hold party meetings.

Bennett was grilled by Taurima 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.

"It was one of the worst and the least-informative [interviews] for viewers, to be honest, that I've ever done in my career ... I always felt that he was much tougher on National Maori women ... but you have got to be careful that you don't start over-thinking things, as well."

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

"After that I had pretty much decided I wouldn't be interviewed by him on Q+A again. At the end of the day they [TVNZ] thought it was controversial and they were happy."

In fact Taurima did interview Bennett again in September 2012, this time on welfare reforms.

The Waitakere MP said she had a "lot of feedback" from viewers after the April interview aired. "They felt, as well, that I had been unfairly treated," she said.

And Bennett said she tweeted Taurima a couple of weeks later when she saw him conduct another interview.

"[I said] 'You are being a pussycat with them' ... he was just so extreme."

Bennett said she was not surprised when Taurima later put his hand up as a prospective Labour candidate in last year's Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election.

She said it should have been "obvious" to TVNZ bosses that he would want to return to politics.

"Of course he must be [biased] ... you cannot become a member of Parliament without [it] ... it is ingrained in you," she said.

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.

"If you go back and look at the interviews, particularly with Hekia Parata and Paul Bennett, frankly they were disgraceful.

"I think Shane Taurima has made a good decision to resign."

Prime Minister John Key said he didn't think TVNZ was biased, but the Taurima episode "wasn't a good look".

"I think it shows the naivete of the decision Shane Taurima made and I think we need to understand, who up the food chain was aware of that," he said.

Key said he had had "robust interviews" with Taurima, but would not comment on whether he believed Taurima should have been reappointed after his political tilt.

"These are employment matters, so it's dangerous for politicians of any persuasion to wade in," he said.

"But in the end I think the management will need to find out what went on, who knew and who sanctioned the appointment."

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Finance Minister Bill English, a shareholding minister in TVNZ, said Taurima has made a "very bad judgement" over his activities and the broadcaster had pledged a full investigation.

"We always think the media is biased," he said.

"They're always trying to make our job a bit more difficult than it should be . . . but that level of partisan engagement is clearly unacceptable."

English had been interviewed by Taurima but could not remember the interview clearly.

"From what I do remember some of the questions didn't seem to be that informed, but I don't really think that's the issue here," he said.

"The issue is the fact that you had some political organisation inside the public broadcaster."

Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss said the issue was not a good look for TVNZ.

"I think the taxpayer would be as disappointed as anybody of the revelations yesterday. It's not a good look," he said.

"I'm disappointed by the revelations yesterday, I've spoken to the chair of TVNZ, he assures me that procedures are in place for this not to happen. He's spoken to the CEO of TVNZ [and] I understand an investigation has been launched."

Foss would not comment on questions regarding Taurima's reappointment to TVNZ after he ran as a Labour candidate in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election.

"Those types of matters a managerial," he said.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said Taurima had shown a "lapse of judgement".

"He's apologised and resigned and that's the right thing to do," he said.

The public had a right to expect a fair and impartial media free from any political influence or perception of political influence, he said.

It was not appropriate for politically-motivated meetings to be held at TVNZ, he said.

While he did not believe Taurima was biased when conducting his interviews he said there were occasions when he was interviewed during which he felt the interview was biased.

"Pretty often I think one's perception in an interview might not be the same as the interviewer's and that's just part of the routine," he said.

Cunliffe refused to comment on whether this would affect Taurima's ambition to stand for Labour or whether he would be comfortable with Taurima doing so.

"That's a matter for the selection process, I'm not going to pre-empt the parties process . . . I am not the decision-maker on that."

- Fairfax Media

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