Video schools state servants on neutrality

01:42, Feb 26 2014

A stroke of genius using The Office as inspiration or a painful waste of taxpayers' money?

You be the critic.

The State Services Commission has issued guidelines and a 10-minute long video, made by staff, on political neutrality in the leadup to this year's election.

Spokeswoman Lisa-Marie Richan, who also fronts the video, said State Services staff produced the video themselves to help illustrate the guidance.  

"This cost a total of $3593 plus GST.  It was scripted in-house and all the 'actors' are SSC staff.  

"The costs were for a camera operator, sound and production/web-editing," she said.

"This was considerably less than a full production would have been.  We've had so much feedback this morning from public servants - all positive so far."

Commissioner Iain Rennie said that as well as written material, visual communication was an effective way to engage as "many state servants as possible on their rights and responsibilities".

He released the refresher the same week a probe was launched into allegations of a conflict of interest by journalist Shane Taurima at state broadcaster Television New Zealand.

The video mimics the opening sequence of The Office, before running through a group of scenes including: a civil servant using the office supplies to produce political posters; another leaving comments on a political blog and a third advising a candidate on their campaign.

Rennie said it was his role to be the guardian of political neutrality across the state sector.

"Although the date for the 2014 general election is yet to be announced, I want to make sure that all state servants are clear about their rights and responsibilities, as we go through 2014."

Prime Minister John Key said reminding public servants that neutrality was incredibly important during an election campaign was something the SSC should be doing.

He said the cost was "relatively cheap".

"But I haven't seen it. If it is going to run on the news then it will at least be memorable."

Managing conflicts and potential conflicts of interest were important to ensure a politically neutral state service.

This included managing private interests and personal politics to serve the government of the day.

Taurima quit last week after it was revealed he had hosted a meeting to advise Labour on winning the Maori vote.

Taurima failed to win Labour's nomination for the Ikaroa Rawhiti by-election last year, but was eyeing the nomination for the Tamaki Makaurau seat.

A branch meeting of Labour's Tamaki Makaurau electorate was held in a TVNZ building.

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick said the state broadcaster was committed to a "thorough, transparent and fair review process", with a probe due to be launched this week.

It will investigate the use of TVNZ resources in the Maori and Pacific Programmes department for political means between February 2013 and February 2014 when Taurima headed the unit.

Kenrick said it would also determine whether any obvious political bias could be identified in the department's programmes during that period or in Q+A interviews conducted by Taurima, during his time on the show, between March and November 2012.

Senior National MPs Paula Bennett and Tau Henare have alleged Taurima was biased in interviews, but several other politicians, including NZ First leader Winston Peters, defended him.

The final report will be made public.