TVNZ may seek staff's political ties

Last updated 05:00 07/03/2014
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TVNZ is considering forcing staff to disclose their party political links after the Shane Taurima debacle, but employment experts advise against it and Prime Minister John Key thinks the step is unnecessary.

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick said the state channel probably needed to be "more robust" in identifying political allegiances, particularly in news and current affairs.

He did not want to censor or dictate staff's political preferences.

"But what we need to have is more robust declaration and awareness of that, and then we probably will need to look at how we can manage a situation where we are aware of that," he said.

At present, TVNZ did not require disclosure of party memberships.

Kenrick told a parliamentary committee a review into events surrounding Mr Taurima, which would include his spending on travel, had so far found no evidence of bias. But Mr Kenrick said he had a low appetite for again hiring someone who had shown their political allegiances. He indicated that former presenter Tamati Coffey, who is seeking the nod for Labour in Rotorua, would not be taken back.

However, Key said asking staff to disclose their affiliations would be "unusual".

"Other media outlets, as far as I'm aware, don't require that. We live in a small country. People have private lives and public lives. I for the most part trust the journalists that I deal with to be professional in what they do."

Mr Key said he did not believe TVNZ was biased, and while he had "robust" interviews with some of the organisation's journalists, this was the same with all organisations.

Employment lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk warned such a move by TVNZ would be risky.

Political views were one of the prohibited grounds for discrimination under the Human Rights Act and she would never suggest asking such a question prior to hiring. "If you don't hire them you run a strong risk they will say that was the reason," she said. "The only exception would be if being of a particular political persuasion was a genuine requirement of the job."

That could include working for a political party. An employer could ask staff to disclose affiliations for monitoring purposes, but that would put them at risk of making inferences. It would be a better option to ask for disclosure after someone was employed, but that was not foolproof.

"If you asked after they've been engaged you have to be careful not to be seen to be discriminating on that basis. You couldn't refuse to put them into any job because of that."

Last year Mr Taurima unsuccessfully sought Labour's nomination in the Ikaroa Rawhiti by-election, and was taken back by TVNZ as head of its Maori and Pacific programming unit.

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It sought assurances he had chosen journalism over politics, but did not ask him whether he was still a member of Labour. Mr Kenrick said in hindsight he regretted that question had not been asked.

Last month, Mr Taurima was forced to resign after it was revealed he had hosted a hui advising Labour on how to win the Maori vote. He had also been at a Labour Tamaki Makaurau branch meeting on TVNZ premises - a seat he was eyeing as a candidate.

He has denied any bias in his work.

- Fairfax Media

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