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Mediawork’s Julie Christie at war with NZ on Air – Possible conflict of interest as first reported last year on TDB

22 February 2016 2 comments

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the-jc

 

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In June last year, as news of the cancellation of Campbell Live rocked the nation, I reported on possible conflicts of interest between Mediaworks’ programming decisions, and one of it’s board members, Julie Christie;

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Just when you thought Mediaworks couldn’t possibly dumb-down their television service any further;

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Come Dine with Me to replace Campbell Live

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When I first heard this, my initial reaction was someone on Facebook, with a wry sense of humour, was playing ‘silly buggers’ at Mediaworks’ expense.

Then I was pointed to the media report on Fairfax’s website.

Honestly – how does one react to a decision like this? Deep sobbing tears and face-palming – or maniacal laughter that might do The Joker proud?!

If this is Mediaworks’ idea of a joke – exacted against Campbell Live supporters as revenge for daring to question executive decisions – then someone has a rather cruel, demented sense of humour.

If this is what passes for sound business decision-making in Mediaworks’ boardrooms these days – then their next round of bankruptcy will not be far away. I’m picking three months.

Whoever was responsible for this awful programming decision would be wise to never, ever admit  their part in this insanity. Their career would be in tatters if word got out. To quote a Mediaworks press release describing ‘Come Dine With Me‘;

“Week one features Monika, a Slovakian child carer, who’s all about silly with a side of spice; Tony, an eccentric real estate agent with some cutting critiques and a few ‘endearing quirks’; Hinemoa, a part-time tattooist and full-time eyebrow enthusiast; motor-bike riding, insurance broker Kyle; and stylish yoga enthusiast Sarah.”

Perhaps an answer to this incomprehensible decision to replace a highly successful, well-respected current affair show like ‘Campbell Live‘ with another (and somewhat gormless-sounding) “reality” programme lies with Mediaworks’ board member, Julie Christie.

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julie christie - gerry brownlee - mediaworks - minister - national government - TV3

“Politicians have also had a strong affection for her over the years. Murray McCully and Gerry Brownlee have been photographed out and about at her bar in the Viaduct.” John Drinnan, 15 February 2013

Image acknowledgement: Postman Productions

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In 1991 Christie founded television production-company, Touchdown Productions.The company was responsible for “reality” (aka “unscripted television“) programmes such as ‘My House My Castle’, ‘Whose House Is It Anyway’, ‘DIY Rescue’, ‘Trading Places’, ‘Treasure Island’,Game of Two Halves’,  ‘Pioneer House’,  ‘Dragons’ Den’, and others.

Julie Christie quickly acquired a reputation for being New Zealand’s own television “Reality Queen“, as TV3 itself described her, two years ago;

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Reality TV queen quits production firm - Julie Christie - Mediaworks - Eyeworks - Campbell Live - John Campbell

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More on Christie’s involvement with reality-TV and TV3 in a moment.

In February 2006, Touchdown was sold to Dutch media group, Eyeworks. She remained as CEO of Eyeworks NZ until 31 October 2012, when she resigned. Eight months later, in June the following year as Mediaworks was put into receivership, Julie Christie was appointed to the board of directors.

There is no telling how much earlier  Christie’s June appointment had been planned by parties involved, though this had been tipped by NZ Herald media columnist, John Drinnan four months earlier.

Julie Christie remained closely involved with the company, as confirmed by Eyeworks on their website;

Former CEO Julie Christie will no longer work for Eyeworks New Zealand but remain connected to the Eyeworks Group (15 territories, HQ Amsterdam) working in an international creative role.

There is indeed a strong, formal link between Christie and Eyeworks.

The directors of Eyeworks New Zealand Ltd are;

  • Greg Anthony HEATHCOTE (NZ)
  • Johannes Petrus Christoffel KERSTENS (Netherlands)
  • Peter LANGENBERG (United Kingdom)
  • Michael David Joseph MOLLOY (NZ)

The parent company of Eyeworks New Zealand Ltd is Eyeworks Holding New Zealand Ltd. It’s directors are the same four individuals;

  • Greg Anthony HEATHCOTE (NZ)
  • Johannes Petrus Christoffel KERSTENS (Netherlands)
  • Peter LANGENBERG (United Kingdom)
  • Michael David Joseph MOLLOY (NZ)

Christie has a separate company, JGM Investments Ltd, whose directors happen to be;

  • Julie Claire CHRISTIE
  • Greg Anthony HEATHCOTE (Director)
  • Michael David Joseph MOLLOY

And JGM Investments No2 Ltd, whose directors are also;

  • Julie Claire CHRISTIE
  • Greg Anthony HEATHCOTE
  • Michael David Joseph MOLLOY

Christie’s JGM Investments No2 Ltd company is described as;

JGM Investments No. 2 Ltd. is a public hotels and motel founded in 2010. With 11 employees, the company is larger than the average hotels and motel.

By “coincidence”, the New Zealand version of ‘Come Dine With Me‘ – which has taken ‘Campbell Live’s‘ “plum” 7pm time-slot – is produced by none other than – Eyeworks NZ.

Eyeworks was not wrong when it stated that Christie “remains connected to the Eyeworks Group”.

Not exactly conspiracy theory stuff – but a possible conflict of interest?

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For full story, see related blogpost: Blogger threatened with lawsuit over questions of conflict-of-interest regarding Mediaworks

Written questions put to Eyeworks and Mediaworks on this issue went unanswered. Instead, Rod McGeoch, Chairperson of Mediaworks, responded with a thinly-veiled threat of legal-action for defamation.

My investigations failed to uncover a further salient fact about Christie’s on-going “close relationship” with Eyeworks – Michael David Joseph Molloy is Julie Christie’s brother. Molloy happens to sit on Eyeworks’ board (now known as Warner Bros NZ), as well as Christie’s own  JGM Investments Ltd.

On 14 February, this story appeared in Fairfax’s Sunday Star Times;

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TV row erupts over $5m funding of soap that reflects modern NZ as a bit 'mongrel' - Mark Weldon - Julie Christie

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Journalist Amy Maas reported that NZ on Air has rejected an application for a Mediawork’s soap opera;

The funding pitch proposed the drama would run five nights a week at 5.30pm. The concept pitched to NZ on Air said Trinity Point was a fictional mid-sized beach town, 90 minutes north of Auckland “and one of the last bastions of the Kiwi dream”. It would feature a white-sand beach and an estuary, the main road of the town would host a Santa parade, Dawn Parade and feature a large Four Square supermarket.

[…]

Confidential emails sent six months before funding was declined, and obtained under the Official Information Act, revealed Christie accused NZ on Air board members of questioning her integrity because she used to own Eyeworks/Warner Bros NZ – the production company awarded the proposal to make the drama, despite 50 other applications.

Christie was not impressed, and was scathing in her response to NZ on Air;

After a meeting between MediaWorks and NZ on Air board members, Christie emailed chair Miriam Dean saying: “Your management continues to use this as one of the reasons to decline the necessary level of funding for MediaWorks’ serial drama to proceed”.

“I am assured by leading drama producers in our industry that the only people perpetrating this rumour are your own management and, as a result, TVNZ who are now gleeful that they have been successful,” Christie wrote.
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Christie pointed out that not only did she not have any conflict with the potential producers of the show, she had not worked there for nearly three years and had sold the company seven years ago. She said she had not even met with the current Warner Bros NZ owners.

However, Dean said it was necessary to question her because she previously owned the production company, and her brother, Michael Molloy, was a director of Warner Bros NZ. But “after appropriate probing”, Dean said NZ on Air found there was no conflict, but she could not provide any evidence that the other production companies had expressed concern.

Evidently, charges of conflict of interest had come from several sources;

But in the June 2015 exchanges between Christie and Dean, the NZ on Air chair explained that some of those whose proposals had been rejected had raised the issue of a potential conflict of interest with it being awarded to Warner Bros NZ.

“The complainants expressed their concerns in confidence by telephone, with no records taken. Several production companies conveyed a sense of disquiet regarding the selection process to the effect that, despite the [request for proposals], the outcome was predetermined.”

Christie then referred to her close connections to various government bodies;

In her emails, Christie made a point of mentioning that she currently sat on three government boards, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, New Zealand Story Board and the Flag Consideration Panel, and had a “deep knowledge of responsible public funding”. 

“It is clear that the Government considers me to be a board member of the upmost integrity. I was awarded ONZM for services to film and television. Yet, NZOA continues to suggest I would behave inappropriately.”

And then, to drive home the point of her and Mark Weldon’s “connections” to the National government, threatened NZ on Air;

Christie said she would like to bring the matter “to the attention of the minister”.

Christie’s and Weldon’s close relationship with National is a matter of record, as pointed out in this story by Rex Widerstrom, in the Daily Blog; Thirteen things you (probably) didn’t know about Mark Weldon (CEO of Mediaworks.

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julie christie - gerry brownlee - mark weldon - john key

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Mark Weldon also lashed out at NZ On Air;

During the mud-slinging, MediaWorks chief executive Mark Weldon also waded in to the debate with a terse email to NZ on Air’s chief executive Jane Wrightson, accusing them of prioritising funding for TVNZ programmes.

In the email he wrote that he “had someone do some work” on the discrepancy between funding received by both TVNZ and MediaWorks. He pointed out that TVNZ had been awarded $27m in the last funding round, compared to MediaWorks’ $4m.

“Looking at the documentation, it does not appear to be the case that you have budget constraints … It is clear that you do have budget choices.”

For Amy Maas’ full story, click here.

As I wrote last year;

I seem to have “touched a nerve”. When thinly-veiled threats of defamation lawsuits start flying, it suggests that someone finds the tenor of questioning to be uncomfortable.

To make it crystal clear for Mr McGeoch and his 40 year old lawyering career, I am asking questions, not making assertions. It would be a fairly simple matter to refute the questions with simple answers.

Thus far, no refutations or clarifications have been forthcoming.

However, an apparent conflict-of-interest still remains to be addressed by Mediaworks. Especially when the programme that replaced ‘Campbell Live‘ was created by a company – Eyeworks – with which Julie Christie is still associated, and whose Board members also sit on two companies with which Christie is involved with.

The perception of murkiness in all this cannot easily be overlooked.

[…]

There is no telling how Christie has benefitted from Eyeworks acquiring the contract to produce ‘Come Dine with Me‘. But what we do know – from Eyeworks’ own admission – is that Christie continues to “remain connected to the Eyeworks Group… working in an international creative role”.

Whilst Christie is no longer a Director of Eyeworks, she is still closely associated with two  Eyeworks Directors via two other companies.

We do not know how Eyeworks acquired the contract to produce ‘Come Dine with Me‘. But we do know that Christie is on Mediaworks’ Board of Directors.

We do not know what role Christie played in the production of ‘Come Dine with Me‘, except;

  • her involvement in the reality TV industry is well known
  • Eyeworks admits that she continues to “remain connected to the Eyeworks Group… working in an international creative role“

The 7pm-7.30pm time slot is prime time, and a lucrative slot for advertising within programmes, as  Rod McGeoch, Chairperson of Mediaworks, stated candidly on 11 April 2015;

“We put news on, but only because it rates. And we sell advertising around news. This is what this is all about.”

For Eyeworks to produce a product and schedule it at prime time would have meant a profitable exercise for the company. That required, first of all, to get rid of ‘Campbell Live‘, thereby leaving the slot open.

It has taken nearly eight months, but after my initial findings, this story has finally been reported by the msm.

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References

Fairfax media: Come Dine with Me to replace Campbell Live

TV3 “News”: Come Dine with Me launches on Monday

Mediaworks: Management

NZ on Air: Julie Christie

Wikipedia: Eyeworks Touchdown

TV3 News: Reality TV queen quits production firm

Scoop media: Sale of Touchdown Television to Eyeworks Group

NZ Herald: Julie Christie quits Eyeworks

NBR:  MediaWorks in receivership

NZ Herald: Media – MediaWorks eyes TV queen Julie Christie

NZ Herald: Anger over Campbell Live’s replacement Come Dine With Me

Fairfax media: TV row erupts over $5m funding of soap that reflects modern NZ as a bit ‘mongrel’

The Daily Blog: Thirteen things you (probably) didn’t know about Mark Weldon (CEO of Mediaworks)

Additional

NZ Herald: Political roundup – Who killed Campbell Live?

Previous related blogposts

Campbell still Live, not gone

The Curious World of the Main Stream Media

Producer of ‘The Nation’ hits back at “interference” allegations over ‘Campbell Live’

Radio NZ – Mediawatch for 24 May 2015 – TV3’s Mark Jennings interviewed re Campbell Live

Friends, Kiwis, Countrymen! I come to praise John Campbell, not bury him

Campbell Live, No More

Blogger threatened with lawsuit over questions of conflict-of-interest regarding Mediaworks

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Campbell - TV3 - cartoon - walking the plank

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on  17 February 2016.

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The slow starvation of Radio NZ – the final nail in the coffin of the Fourth Estate?

26 November 2015 4 comments
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save radio new zealand - facebook
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The chilling of the mainstream media

Whether by machiavellian, subtle and covert political pressuring from on-high; bad management decision-making,  or an inevitable process of  dumbing-down brought on by the never-ending need for advertising revenue and rapacious returns to share-holders, news media in this country continues to suffer at the on-going impacts of “market forces”.

The demise of Campbell Live and the loss of Mihingarangi Forbes from Maori TV’s Native Affairs and Dita De Boni from the NZ Herald should give all thinking New Zealanders cause for concern. Those three were amongst the most talented and critical voices from the mainstream media, and their dumping no doubt had a chilling effect throughout the media in this country.

With few exceptions, journos have mortgages and  bills to pay; mouths to feed; and careers they are passionate about. The constant possibility  of sudden termination of their contract is a sword of damocles that probably weighs on their minds when considering how critical of the Establishment they really want to be.

The may be risking their jobs if they stick their heads too far above the parapets.

The only people whose jobs are apparently safe are Mike Hosking and Paul Henry (who seems to bounce from company to company without any deleterious effects to his credibility).

Interestingly,  each has been ’embedded’ with  the two major television networks, TVNZ and Mediaworks’ TV3. Neither are journalists and  both Hosking and Henry  are unashamedly  linked to National.

This is “independepent media freedom” in New Zealand, circa 2015AD.

Who watches the Watchmen?

The last bastion of an independent  freedom, free from commercial imperatives and political interference (hopefully) is, Radio NZ. Despite an incident three years ago, where blogger Martyn Bradbury was banned from Radio NZ for making comments highly critical of our esteemed Dear Leader, the broadcaster maintains a strong ability to project itself as a serious, credible news and current affairs medium.

It continues to carry out strong investigative reporting; interviewing government ministers; State sector leaders;  and other public figures; and offering political analysis from both the Left and the Right.

One of Radio NZ’s most insightful (and often under-valued) programmes is  Mediawatch, which scrutinises, analysis, and holds to account, New Zealand’s mainstream media in a way that is not matched anywhere else by any other MSM outlet. As the Radio NZ promo-blurb states;

“Mediawatch looks critically at the New Zealand media – television, radio, newspapers and magazines as well as the ‘new’ electronic media. It also examines the performance of the agencies, corporations and institutions that regulate them. It looks into the impact the media has on the nation, highlighting good practice as well as bad along the way – and it also enquires into overseas trends and technological developments which New Zealanders need to know about.

It aims to enlighten everyone with an interest in the media about how it all works, how quickly things are changing – and how certain significant stories and issues are being covered. It’s also intended to be essential listening for those who work in the industry itself – as well as those who simply enjoy well-produced and lively radio.”

A recent prime example was on 9 August, when TV3 reporter, Tova O’Brien was taken to task for attributing a quote to someone who never actually said what she claimed;

@ 2:50 –

Colin Peacock: In New York, Tova O’Brien also got a second opinion on Murray McCully’s lofty dream of reforming the veto powers of the so-called Big Five at the UN. And 3 News introduced that story like this;

TV3 News: Former Prime Minister Helen Clark thinks Murray Clark is dreaming if he thinks New Zealand can rid the UN Security Council veto. Russia used the veto yesterday during… [fade-out]

Colin Peacock: Though Helen Clark had actually applauded Murray McCully for his ambition. It was Tova O’Brien who used the word ‘dreaming’ in a question to Helen Clark.

Helen Clark: It [New Zealand] should go for it. It [New Zealand] should follow it’s [New Zealand’s] dream.

Tova O’Brien: But in this case he’s dreaming.

Helen Clark: It’s not a short-term objective.

That was downright dishonest reporting.  Only Radio NZ’s Mediawatch picked up on it.

Last year, on 7 July, Mediawatch was the only  mainstream media team that questioned and criticised the NZ Herald’s dubious stories surrounding unsubstantiated claims of large donations made by migrant businessman, Donghua Liu, to the Labour Party. (Those claims were later “clarified”  with a half-hearted  retraction by the Herald.)

No other mainstream media questioned any of the astounding and unsupported claims made by Donghua Liu, and reported uncritically by the Herald.

It is a sobering thought that aside from the toothless “watch dog” of the Press Council, and only marginally more effective Broadcasting Standards Authority,  there is no real scrutiny of  mistakes, omissions, and mis-reporting made by our media.

Self-criticism does not come easily to the Fourth Estate.

Gutting by slow starvation?

Funding for Radio NZ is channelled through New Zealand on Air – a body described on Wikipedia, as “…an independent New Zealand broadcast funding agency” and  “autonomous crown entity separate from central Government and governed by a Board of six appointed by the Minister of Broadcasting. NZ on Air is responsible for the funding of public-good broadcasting content across television, radio and new media platforms“.

The funding figure of $31.816 million is an easy one to remember – it has remained unchanged since 2009-10, when National assumed the reins of government. The figure has been maintained until next year.Using the Reserve Bank inflation calculator, Radio NZ’s funding should have risen to $35.26 million. In effect, by not keeping pace with inflation, Radio NZ’s funding has been cut by around 10%.

By contrast, Budget data showing increases to the Prime Minister’s Department makes for sobering reading.

  • Michael Cullen’s last budget,  2008/09, allocated $25,470,000 to Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  • In the same 2008/2009 Budget, Radio NZ was allocated $31,718,000 through NZ on Air, an increase of $2,644,000 (approx 8%) from the previous year.
  • In National’s first Budget, 2009/10, Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet was allocated $33,021,000 – an increase of $7,551,000 – or just under 25%!
  • In the same 2009/2010 Budget, Radio NZ’s allocation went up by $98,000 to $31,816,000 – not even a 1% increase.

For the first time, the Prime Minister’s Departmental budget exceeded that of Radio NZ. Furthermore;

  • Since 2009/10, Radio NZ’s allocation has stayed the same; $31,816,000.
  • By contrast, the amounts allocated to the Prime Minister’s Department has increased, and in the 2015/16 Budget was allocated  $49,298,000 – an increase of $24,476,000 since 2008 and  a near-doubling of John Key’s department and Cabinet expenditure since Michael Cullen’s last budget, seven years ago.
  • In the 2015/16 Budget, Radio NZ was allocated  $31,816,000 – a nil increase.

Framed another way, a news media organisation – dedicated to informing the public about government activities – has had no increase in resourcing since John Key’s administration came to power in late 2008.

By contrast, the Prime Minister’s Department – dedicated to promoting the power of the Government and more specifically, pursuing National’s political agenda – has had a doubling of taxpayer funding.

Where to for funding Radio NZ?

On 17 August, I wrote to NZ on Air’s Chief Executive, Jane Wrightson and asked;

“In your Annual reports, NZ on Air’s income from  Crown revenue went from $109,813,000 (for the year ended 30 June 2008 ) to  $128,726,000 (for the year ended 30 June 2015) – an increase of nearly $19 million.

Can you explain why none of that increase, according to your Annual Reports,  was directed at Radio NZ?”

On 21 August, Ms Wrightson responded;

“NZ On Air does not set Radio New Zealand’s Crown funding. This is done by Ministers. I am not aware of any government-funded entity that has an automatic inflation provision to increase funding.”

When questioned whether “Radio NZ’s funding has been frozen (effectively reduced, after inflation is factored in) because it is considered to be politically “inconvenient” or “embarrassing”  to the government”, Ms Wrightson replied;

“NZ On Air is a funding agency independent of Government in terms of our content funding strategy and decisions. Radio New Zealand’s funding has been static in the same way that all publicly funded agencies in the cultural sector have been static, during a time of fiscal constraint.”

Fiscal constraint” does not appear to be a limiting factor when the Prime Minister’s Department is funded from the tax-payer’s purse/wallet.

Questions for the Broadcasting Minister

On 6 September, I asked the Minister of Broadcasting, Amy Adams;

It is my understanding that Radio New Zealand’s funding has not increased since 2009, when it’s budget was set at $31,816,000.

With it’s funding frozen, and no means of other revenue, it has effectively had a funding cut after inflation and salary increases are taken into account.

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has not, at the very least,  been inflation-indexed?

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen whilst at the same time, the Prime Ministers Department has had a budget increase since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16 – a near doubling in just seven years?

Are you committed to increasing Radio NZ’s budget next year? If not, why not?

How do you expect Radio NZ to deliver excellent service  when it has effectively had a cut in funding?

On 20 May this year, you were enthusiastic about Radio NZ’s growth in market-share;

“While there has been a decline in listenership across traditional platforms, over the last twelve months RNZ’s online audience has grown significantly as their multi-media strategy is implemented.”

For example:

  • In 2013/14, 3.5 million podcasts were downloaded.
  • In 2013/14, radionz.co.nz page views reached 21 million and over 2014 unique users of the website grew by over 50 per cent.
  • In 2013/14, regular user of the RNZ mobile app grew by almost 62 per cent.

Ref: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/bill-update-radio-nz-charter-passes-second-reading

Whilst this is evidence that Radio NZ is a prudent manager of it’s funding, it is unreasonable to expect that this situation is  sustainable for the foreseeable future.

If the Prime Minister’s Department required a 100% increase from 2008, then why has Radio NZ not been accorded the same benefit?

There have been suggestions that Radio NZ’s frozen funding is a covert attack on the broadcaster and an attempt to reduce it’s effectiveness. What is your response to this assertion?

On 17 September 〈¹〉,Minister Adams replied to my questions;

“I have been pleased to see the steps RNZ is taking to ensure its success in the
changing media environment and the ways it has expanded to reach new audiences,
such as The Wireless, an online service for young people. Although operating
within a static funding environment, RNZ continues to meet it’s objectives and
has become an established multi-platform broadcaster with the annual funding of
$35 million it receives.

While I share your concern about the funding constraints RNZ has faced over
recent years, this is common across all public services. In a time of fiscal
constraint, it is especially important that the Government manages the public
finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about
the prioritisation of public funds. I welcome the approach RNZ has taken to
ensure the business is run as efficiently as possible and that public funds
are utilised as effectively as they can be to maximise the public value of content.”

Adams went on to state;

“While I recognise your concern about the funding constraints RNZ has faced over
recent years, this is common across all public services. In a time of fiscal
constraint, it is especially important that the Government manages the public
finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about
the prioritisation of public funds. I welcome the approach RNZ has taken to ensure
the businrss is run as efficiently as possible and that public funds are utilised
as effectively as they can be to maximise the public value of content.”

To put it mildly, her response was utterly unsatisfactory, and in no way offered any sensible answers. Her comments also did not appear to reflect realities surrounding Radio NZ and required clarification.

Awkward Questions and Questionable Answers

On the same day, I wrote back to the Minister, seeking new answers;

As I pointed out to you in my 6 September email,

It is my understanding that Radio New Zealand’s funding has not increased since 2009, when it’s budget was set at $31,816,000.

With it’s funding frozen, and no means of other revenue, it has effectively had a funding cut after inflation and salary increases are taken into account.

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has not, at the very least,  been inflation-indexed?

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen whilst at the same time, the Prime Ministers Department has had a budget increase since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16 – a near doubling in just seven years?

In your response to me, dated 17 September, you stated in-part;

“While I share your concern about the funding constraints RNZ has faced over
recent years, this is common across all public services. In a time of fiscal constraint, it is
especially important that the Government manages the public finances in a prudent and
responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about the prioritisation of public
funds. I welcome the approach RNZ has taken to ensure the business is run as
efficiently as possible and that public funds are utilised as effectively as they can be to
maximise the public value of content.”

This response does not address the questions and issues I raised in my email.

Namely; why has Radio NZ’s funding been frozen since 2009 – whilst funding for the Prime Minister’s Department has doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16.

 The next point I raised was;

Why has Radio NZ’s funding been frozen since 2009 – whilst funding for the Prime Minister’s Department has doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16.

You state that “In a time of fiscal constraint, it is especially important that the Government manages the public finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about the prioritisation of public funds” – yet this constraint does not seem to have been applied to the Prime Minister’s Department, with funding increases every year since 2008.

Can you shed light on  why Radio NZ’s funding has been frozen, but the Prime Minister’s Department has not?

And the last point I raised;

Secondly,  you write that “ it is especially important that the Government manages the public finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about the prioritisation of public funds“.

Can you explain the meaning of term, “sustainable choices” in the context of your letter? What, precisely, do you mean by “sustainable choices“?

Lastly, you refer to Radio NZ as a “business”. Considering that RNZ is non-commercial; has very little revenue; does not return a dividend; and has no profit-making capability – can you explain in what sense the broadcaster is a “business”?
This time, the Minister’s response was not so promptly forthcoming, and after sending a reminder on 1 October to her office, I was advised on 15 October;

The section of your email relating to the budget of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has been transferred to the Department, as it is better able to respond to your query.

Minister Adams will respond to your questions regarding the funding of RNZ.

It was now apparent that I was asking awkward questions that could not be fobbed off with a three-paragraph letter written in bland political jargon-speak.

Having transferred part of my OIA to the Prime Minister’s Department, I suspected it would be a long wait for a response.

On 13 November, Minister Adams responded to my request for clarification to her statement on 17 September. She first said;

“With regards to the first matter you raise, no government agency’s budget is inflation
linked. Ministers make decisions on an annual basis about potential funding increases
based on the requirements of the agencies. As you will be aware, these decisions involve
prioritisation across the entire public sector to ensure that any additional funding is
focused on the areas of most need.”

The Minister’s claim that “no government agency’s budget is inflation linked”appears to be at variance with the fact that the Prime Minister’s Department’s budget has doubled since 2008. This is an area which she obviously has no answer to, hence “transferring” my query to the PM’s Department.

However, Adams’ assertion that “ministers make decisions on an annual basis about potential funding increases” is actually at the nub of this problem. It is precisely the fact that Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen by a decision at a  ministerial level, that Minister Adams herself admits.

In effect, by deciding that Radio NZ’s budget is not to be increased, it is a form of political interference in an otherwise independent agency’s affairs.

National has long since abandoned Muldoonist-style direct interference in state sector departments and agencies. The more subtle – but just as destructive technique – is to quietly starve a recalcitrant independent body of funding.

When Minister Adams insists that “Ministers make decisions on an annual basis about potential funding increases based on the requirements of the agencies“, she is being duplicitous.

No one could sensibly suggest that a nationwide broadcaster could operate on a long-term basis without an increase to it’s funding.

Executives warn Parliamentary Select Committee of dire financial situation for RadioNZ

Radio NZ’s growing financial problems was raised during the 2012/13 financial review of Radio New Zealand,  by the Parliamentary Commerce Committee. The Committee referred to the issue at the beginning of their Report;

“Crown funding for Radio New Zealand has not increased in six years; we asked how this had affected staff and services.”

Labour’s Kris Faafoi was direct when he asked RadioNZ’s, Deputy Chief Executive, Ken Law;

“…you’ve been under a pretty difficult financial situation for 5 or 6 years now. I notice in the questions that you gave back to us that you’ve managed to make some savings of around $2 million in the last year, but how much longer can you cut your cloth until there is no more cloth to cut?”

Law, responded;

“I would suggest that that funding will have to be externally generated. But we have been very successful. We’ve made a number of
savings, particularly in production systems. We have some excellent expert staff in audio production. They’ve made some major savings in audio production systems and procedures. We’ve taken out some of the resilience or some of the duplication in transmission networks. That’s been a very calculated risk, but one that we think we’ve been able to manage and we can manage into the future. But really your question—how much longer? Not much longer.”

That was review was held around 8 May 2014. Despite putting on a brave face to the Parliamentary Committee and voicing up-beat comments, Radio NZ’s executives are clearly concerned that they are fast running out of cost-saving options.

Also noteworthy is that, in an attempt to cut costs, managerial decisions have been implemented to cut “some of the resilience or some of the duplication in transmission networks“.

Law described  cut-backs to “resilience” as “a very calculated risk”. This can be taken as to mean that Radio NZ’s technical infrastructure has been undermined and compromised for cost-saving purposes.

“Sustainability” and job losses looming

Minister Adams’ also explained what she meant by the term, “sustainable choices” and  in what sense was the broadcaster  a “business”, considering it is non-commercial, and has no revenue-income to speak of;

“With regards to the term ‘sustainable choices’ as used in my previous
correspondence, I meant choices about fiscal policy that keep government debt at
prudent levels and manage fiscal risks. As mentioned above, when Ministers make
decisions about agency funding they have to prioritise initiatives from across the
state sector to achieve this.

[…]

Although RNZ is not a commercial business, the Crown expects commercial disciplines
to be applied to the use of public funds and for RNZ to act in a professional and
business-like manner.”

Minister Adams’ candour was startling. She was admitting that her use of the phrase “sustainable choices” referred not to Radio NZ – but to National’s own attempts to balance it’s Budget and post a surplus.

Like other areas of the State sector – health, education, housing, police, etc – National has been cutting budgets to meet Budgetary demands. Those demands were exacerbated by National’s tax cuts of 2009 and 2010. Using the Minister’s phraseology, those tax cuts were ultimately “unsustainable choices“.

A year and a half  after  Ken Law’s fateful words to the Commerce Committee, Radio NZ’s chief executive, Paul Thompson, announced that the broadcaster would be shedding jobs;

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson confirmed staff had been sent memo outlining the proposed changes at the state-owned broadcaster on Tuesday.

Newsreaders and producers at Radio New Zealand are in the gun, with the national broadcaster planning to shed jobs in their push into digital.

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson confirmed staff had been sent memo outlining the proposed changes at the state-owned broadcaster on Tuesday.

This included cutting the overall headcount at RNZ from 283 to 270 by July next year, with 20 jobs disestablished and seven new digital roles created.

“We are having to find some savings which is no surprise.”

National’s on-going refusal to adequately  fund Radio NZ  has  predictably been  “un-sustainable“.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirms doubling of their Budget

Having heard nothing since 15 October, when the Broadcasting Minister’s office transferred part of my OIA request to the Prime Minister’s Department, follow-up enquiries were made on 23 October as to what progress they were making;

“It is my understanding that Radio New Zealand’s funding has not increased since 2009,
when it’s budget was set at $31,816,000.

With it’s funding frozen, and no means of other revenue, it has effectively had a funding
cut after inflation and salary increases are taken into account.

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has not, at the very least, been inflation-indexed?

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen whilst at the same time, the Prime
Ministers Department has had a budget increase since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000
in 2015/16 – a near doubling in just seven years?”

By 12 November, a month after Minister Adams’ office had transferred part of my OIA request to the Prime Minister, no reply had been forthcoming and I asked again whether I could expect a reply.

A little over twentyfour hours later, I received a two-page response from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (The full text of the document is available for viewing here.)

In response to my questions;

“Why has Radio NZ’s funding been frozen since 2009 – whilst funding for the Prime Minister’s Department has doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16?”

“This [funding] constraint does not seem to have been applied to the Prime Minister’s Department, with funding increases every year since 2008. Can you shed light on  why Radio NZ’s funding has been frozen, but the Prime Minister’s Department has not?”

– the answers were “interesting” to say the least.

Anne Shaw, Director of the Office of the Chief Executive, confirmed that the budget for the DPMC had doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16.

She described the doubling of the Prime Minister’s Department as taking on “new responsibilities“;

“The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) serves the Executive (the
Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet) through the provision of high
quality impartial advice and support services. DPMC is comprised of five business
units: Cabinet Office, Government House, Policy Advisory Group, Security & Intelligence
Group, and Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management. The functions of DPMC
have changed significantly over the period of time covered by your request with taking
on new responsibilities. The changes in funding largely reflect this.”

Interestingly, Shaw refered to political management  and the Civil Defence  bureacracy as “business units”. Are those “business units” run with the  expectation of  commercial disciplines  to be applied to the use of public funds and to act in a professional and business-like manner” – as Minister Adams demanded of Radio NZ?

Shaw then provided alleged examples which appeared to justify the doubling of funding for the Prime Minister’s office.

However, Budget documents are not always clear as to what “additional fundings” were made from the Prime Ministers Department (DPMC), as purported by Shaw. In several instances, there was no apparent reference to any increase for a given purpose;

(1) “Additional funding” for the  “conservation of Government House in Wellington” between 2009/10 and 2010/11:

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2009/10 Budget: $20.1 million

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2010/11 Budget: $17.4 million

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2011/12 Budget: $1.1 million

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2012/13 Budget: $1 million

(2) “Payments made as a result of the September 2010 and February 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, including support for response and recovery as a result  of the 22 February 2011 Canterbury Earthquake“. There were no payments found  for “support for response and recovery activities”  relating to the earthquakes within the 2010/11, 2011/12, or 2012/13 Budgets.

(3)  “Relocating the intelligence and security functions to a new purpose-built facility for the New Zealand intelligence community” 2010/11.  There were no payments found  for any such “relocation” within the DPMC Budget.

However, the Budget for Vote Communications Security and Intelligence increased massively during the 2010/11 period which Shaw claimed as justification for the DPMC’s budget increase:

Vote Communications Security and Intelligence 2008/09:  $49.368 million

Vote Communications Security and Intelligence 2009/10:  $59.142 million

Vote Communications Security and Intelligence 2010/11:  $73.926 million

Any increase for “relocating the intelligence and security functions to a new purpose-built facility for the New Zealand intelligence community” appears to have come from Vote Communications Security and Intelligence, not Vote Prime Minister’s Department.

(4) There is no reference to expenditure for “Cabnet”  or establishment of the National Cyber Policy Office within the 2012/13 Budget for Vote Prime Minister’s Department. If it exists, it was “buried” under one or another classication.

(5)  Shaw also referred to costs incurred for “depreciation funding for the refurbished Government House“. These entries do exist in each DPMC Budget.

“Funded depreciation” is described as “… a fixed asset management method that helps a company set aside funds to renew machinery and equipment that it uses in operating activities“.

It is highly unlikely that any government will be building a new Government House any time soon.

(6) Shaw gave another explanation to the ballooning Prime Minister’s Department’s budget; “In April 2014, the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (MCDEM) became part of the DPMC. This meant an additional funding increase in 2013/14 with the transfer of civil defence and emergency management functions from Vote Internal Affairs and an additional 39 staff“.

Ms Shaw is correct, and the cost of transitioning – according the the 2013/14 Budget – $1.354 million.

Even with three related costings included, the sum reaches only $3.6 million. This hardly explains why the PM’s Department’s budget has doubled since 2008.

(7)  Ms Shaw’s final explanation for the budgetary increases for the DPMC was perhaps the most galling, citing “an increase in 2015/16 reflecting the expected costs of supporting the process to consider changing the New Zealand Flag“.

However, Shaw’s explanation is not convincing. The 2015/16 Budget reveals a figure of $4.4 million for the DPMC’s “Supporting Flag Consideration Process” – not the full estimated costing of $26 million.

Even so, considering that Ministers have consistantly fetishsised  the “need for fiscal restraint”, it is hard to see that funding the flag referendum is a necessity that excuses the need for on-going “fiscal restraint”.

Especially when agencies such as Radio NZ have not had funding increases for seven years.

It appears that money can be readily found when John Key needs it.

Solutions?

On 17 September, broadcasting spokespeople for Labour, the Greens, and NZ First were approached for comment on Radio NZ’s funding.

The Greens and NZ First did not provide any response.

Labour’s Clare Curran responded and said;

In October I released a private member’s bill to put to an end Radio New Zealand’s punishing
six­year funding freeze that matches funding to inflation and population growth and assists
the broadcaster’s transition to a multimedia public service network

The Radio NZ (Catch­Up Funding) Amendment Bill, which has been placed in the private
member’s bill ballot, provides for an 11 per cent increase based on total inflation and an
overall population increase of 6.7 per cent from June 2009 to June 2015.

Current NZ on Air funding for Radio New Zealand for the 2015/16 year is $31,816,000. The
one­off ‘catch up’ for the 2015/16 year would be an increase of around $6.5 million.

The Bill provides for the catch­up funding to be sustained and for inflation and population
adjustments to occur annually. It is the first step in a broad strategy by Labour to improve the
quantity and quality of New Zealand voices in broadcasting.

Public service broadcasting is gradually being eroded in New Zealand. Despite the population
of New Zealand growing ever larger and more diverse, the range of voices in broadcasting is
narrowing.

This bill is a stake in the ground on the importance of public interest media.

Ms Curran also replied to several specific questions I put to her,  if Labour was to be part of the next government, post­-2017;

Frank Macskasy: Will you make an immediate capital-injection into Radio NZ, to take into account inflation since 2008?

Clare Curran: Labour’s broadcasting policy for 2017 is yet to be announced. However I draw your attention
to the private member’s bill in my name which provides for an immediate funding increase
for RNZ based on inflation since 2008 and population increase.

FM: Will you inflation-index any subsequent funding for Radio NZ?

CC: Bearing in mind we haven’t announced formal policy I think you take that as a yes.

FM: What strategy do you have, if any, to entrench regular funding increases for Radio NZ to take such funding  decisions away from ministers and eliminate/reduce potential covert political interference by chronic under-funding?

CC:  This is an excellent question and one that Labour takes very seriously. We are undertaking
community engagement as we speak about these very matters. As Broadcasting
spokesperson, and as a former journalist, I believe editorial independence from ministerial
interference is a fundamental tenet of democracy. Recent events inside Maori TV have raised
serious questions about the ability of a Minister to influence programming decisions which he
doesn’t like. Political party That’s deeply concerning no matter which political party is
involved.

I don’t believe our publicly ­funded media is arms­-length enough from government. What’s
happening in Australia with the ABC and even in the UK with the BBC is testament to that.

In order for true democracy to flourish, commercial –free public interest media is an essential
pillar. Just as we have established and entrenched the watchdogs of government in the
Ombudsman, Auditor General, Human Rights Commission, Privacy Commissioner etc.. so
must we ensure that our public media entities are given a public mandate to operate
independently from state influence, overtly or surreptitiously. As you rightly point out,
removing funding decisions from ministers may be an important mechanism to do that.

However, I make the point that it must be a political policy decision to move in that direction.
I signal that Labour will move in that direction.

FM: Would an independent decision-making body, such as the Remuneration Authority which rules over MP’s salaries, be a practical solution to this problem?

CC: This is a matter for further discussion which I welcome and will participate in, in any forum.

Clare Curran’s response was appreciated.

It also gives hope that a future progressive government will not only restore Radio NZ’s funding – but will implement a policy that will entrench and safeguard this taonga from covert under-mining by unsympathetic governments.

The job of media is not to serve up infantilised ‘pap’ for an increasingly disconnected audience. The job of media is to hold truth to power, full-stop.

A democracy simply cannot function without a flourishing, well-resourced, critical media.

Governments without a watchful media is authority without brakes. It is political power without independent over-sight. It is dangerous.

At a time when print media is “down-sizing” (ie, sacking) skilled, experienced staff, and electronic media serves up a daily evening diet of superficial “current affairs” and even more vacuous “news”; gormless formulaic “reality shows”; and a never-ending stream of stomach-churning crime “drama” – Radio NZ is the last bastion of serious, professional media.

It is the last institution left standing. It is holding the line.

But only barely.

Note1 – Minister Adams responded to my OIA in one and a half weeks. This is an outstanding achievement for any National Minister’s office. Most National Ministers take weeks, if not months, to respond.

NZ Treasury: Budget 2015 – Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet

Additional References

NZ on Air: The Board

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2008

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2009

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2010

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2012

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2013

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2014

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2015

Additional

The Daily Blog: CBB supports Private Members Bill to increase funding to Radio NZ

Labour: Labour bill to stop stealth cuts to Radio NZ

The Standard:  David Cunliffe on the state of the media in New Zealand

Parliament: Radio New Zealand (Catch-up Funding) Amendment Bill

Previous related blogposts

TVNZ7, Radio New Zealand, and distracting trinkets.

State Media Bans Dissident!

Karl Du Fresne has a public baby waa-waa cry-session

Karl Du Fresne has a public baby waa-waa cry-session – part rua

Talkback Radio, Public Radio, and related matters

NZ media; the Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very, Ugly

Campbell Live, No More

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

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charlie hebdo

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 November 2015.

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Facepalm #2: NZ on Air…

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NZ on Air - rugby kick movie

 

Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – Movie planned on Donald’s winning kick

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A. Movie. About. A. Rugby. Kick.

…!?!?

Only in New Zealand.

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facepalm-2

 

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The Fletcher Affair – a warning for Labour

6 April 2013 8 comments

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spy vs politician

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The current mess surrounding the appointment of Ian Fletcher as the Government Communications Security Bureau’s (GCSB) Director should serve as a clear warning to any future Labour-Green government: Don’t Do It.

To be precise; don’t do what Key (and his ministerial cronies) has done. Circumventing the State Services Commission to “facilitate” appointments – even if done for decent motives – is simply;

(A) Not a good look

(B) Not worth the hassle when the media, bloggers, and Opposition get hold of it

(C) A slippery-slope toward cronyism and inevitable corruption.

The appointment of John Key’s Electorate Chairperson,  Stephen McElrea (who is also the National Party’s Regional Deputy Chair, National Party Northern Region) to the Board of NZ On Air raised numerous charges of cronyism and an agenda of political interference in public funding for television programming. (See:  Call for McElrea to resign from NZ On Air; See: PM has questions to answer over NZ on Air link )

Concerns over political appointees to highly sensitive positions, vulnerable to political interference, was quickly borne out when McElrea began to flex his “political muscles” even before being appointed to  NZ on Air’s Board,

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National man eyes NZ On Air chair

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – National man eyes NZ On Air chair

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Key’s background in deal-making; cutting corners to achieve set goals; and getting results fatally blinds him to the realities that politics and government is a whole different kettle of fish to ‘high finance’. (Which would be a good thing, considering the almighty crash of  ‘high finance’ four years ago.)

The State Services Commission was set up precisely to keep politician’s greasy hands of appointments.  At the beginning of out nascent civil service, ministerial cronyism was rampant,

The departments that grew up over the next few decades operated under the direct control of their Ministers, in arrangements that were practical in pioneering times.  Ministers approved appointments, determined pay and conditions, and oversaw administration and financial management, with varying degrees of diligence.

[…]

Understandably, Ministers were inclined to see that the people appointed were sympathetic to their own political outlook and priorities – and inevitably, in a small population, these were sometimes friends or acquaintances.  The Public Service was run on somewhat ad hoc ‘frontier’ lines, and seems not to have been much different from its parent institution, the British civil service.  In their report on the British civil service Sir Stafford North and Sir Charles Trevelyan described a bureaucracy that was, in the 1850s, rife with patronage, fragmented and inefficient.

Acknowledgement: State Services Commission –  Origins of the Public Service and Office of State Services Commissioner

Accordingly, after 1912, reforms were enacted to clean up this unholy mess,

The Hunt Commission in due course recommended, as ‘the most important matter of all’, establishment of a Board of Management under Cabinet, to have ‘absolute and undisputed power’ in ‘all matters relating to the control and management of the Service – … appointments, salaries, promotion, suspensions, dismissals, and indeed everything affecting officers – ‘  It suggested the Board’s first duties should include blocking all ‘back doors’ of entrance to the Public Service, and arranging for all promotions be made from within the Service.

The outcome was the Public Service Act 1912 – based on Herdman’s Bill already before the house – which set up a non-political and unified career Public Service; non-political through powers of appointment, promotion and dismissal being entrusted to an independent body – the Public Service Commissioner.

Acknowledgement: IBID

It is abundantly clear that John Key doesn’t ‘get’ any of this, when he said,

I didn’t do anything wrong whatsoever. Labour have done very similar things.”

Again, blaming Labour.

Is everything he says or does predicated on what the previous government did?

Does Key not have standards of his own? (Rhetorical question. Don’t answer.)

Because Key’s memory lapses cannot be blamed on anyone but himself. Especially when, on 3 April he openly contradicted himself as to who-phoned-who, as Andrea Vance reported,

…he appears to be confused about who first suggested Fletcher for the job.

Asked why he didn’t tell the full story last week, Key said: “I’d forgotten that at that particular time.”

In Porirua this afternoon, Key was grilled about the sequence of events that saw Fletcher appointed as director of the GCSB in September 2011.

At first Key said: “Iain Rennie, state services commissioner recommended him to me… I rang [Fletcher] and said ‘look, you know, you might be interested.”

Asked again who first brought up Fletcher’s name, Key replied: “Iain Rennie put it to me.”

Later on, he was asked again who first mentioned Fletcher. “I would have mentioned it to him, I’m sure.”

When pressed to clarify if he first suggested the name to Rennie, he said: “I’m sure I probably would have.”

Acknowledgement: Fairfax Media – Fletcher’s appointment defended by SSC boss

Key lied. He was caught out lying.

On 4 April, Scoop Media wrote about the rationale behind Ian Fletcher’s appointment as GCSB director. Fletcher had no prior military of Intelligence experience. But he did have an extensive  background in intellectual property, commerce and “free” trade (see: The CV of a Spy Boss ) .

Fletcher’s appointment was announced  in September 2011, and was due to take up his new job in early 2012.

At the same time, police were planning their raid on Kim Dotcom’s mansion, scheduled to take place  on January 20 2012.

Scoop wrote,

Suppose Dotcom’s arrest and extradition was the clincher in the deal that secured Warner Bros’ agreement to produce The Hobbit in New Zealand. But any link to John Key, who led the negotiations with Warner Bros, would tend to confirm Dotcom’s claim, supported by the strong connection between Hollywood and US vice-president Joe Biden, of political persecution. So the prime minister had to be protected by having total deniability, leading to the completely implausible claim of not knowing about the most prominent resident in his own electorate until the day before the raid.

Acknowledgement: Kim Dotcom Part Two

Conspiracy fantasy?

Remember that Key has had several top level meetings with Warner Bros executives,

October 2010

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No decision yet in Hobbit talks - Key

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – No decision yet in Hobbit talks – Key

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July 2011

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PM's 'special' movie studio meeting

Acknowledgement: Fairfax – PM’s ‘special’ movie studio meeting

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October 2012

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Key - Dotcom won't be discussed during Hollywood visit

Acknowledgement: TV3 – Key: Dotcom won’t be discussed during Hollywood visit

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Four days later,
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Dotcom raised at PM's Hollywood dinner

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And those are only the meetings which we, The Masses, are aware of.

It’s interesting to note Chris Dodd, the CEO of  the Motion Picture Assiciation of America (MPAA) referred to the Trans Pacific Partnership Aggreement (TPPA) in the 5 October NZ Herald article above.

The TPPA has more to do with intellectual property rights than with “free” trade. (See: “Global Research –  The “Trans-Pacific Partnership”: Obama’s Secret Trade Deal; See: MFAT -Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations – Intellectual Property Stakeholder Update)

It’s also worthwhile noting that Ian Fletcher’s appointment coincided to the month with the raid on Kim Dotcom’s mansion.

  • Raid on Kim Dotcom’s mansion:  20 January 2012.

And both men were involved in intellectual property rights – though from different angles,

  • Kim Dotcom – the man who Hollywood executives wanted brought down because of alleged copyright violations on his ‘megaupload’ website. (see: The MPAA on Dotcom)
  • Ian Fletcher – the man who had worked in the UK to protect oroporate interests in intellectual property rights. (see below)

When Ian Fletcher’s appointment was announced on 8 September 2011, Key himself proudly boasted of the new Director’s  career,

Announcing the appointment Prime Minister John Key said he has ” policy and operational experience particularly in relation to international economic and trade matters.”

Acknowledgement: New Zealand’s new top spy boss revealed

Fletcher’s ” policy and operational experience particularly in relation to international economic and trade matters” seemed to matter for John Key for some reason?

Kim Dotcom was very high on the list of issues relating to “international economic and trade matters“; namely intellectual property rights.  Indeed, in March 2007, Fletcher was appointed as Chief Executive of the UK Office of Intellectual Property.

On 20 March 2007, Ian Fletcher said,

“I am delighted to be joining the Patent Office. It already plays a vital role in the UK’s economic prosperity, its scientific excellence and its innovation system. As the Office moves on to tackle to challenges set out in Andrew Gowers’ review, the Office’s role will become even more central to the UK’s response to the challenges of globalisation.”

Acknowledgement: Intellectual Property Office – New Chief Executive for the Patent Office

(Hat-tip; Karol, on The Standard)

It has been widely commented that Ian Fletcher has no background in the military, nor Intelligence – yet was considered the one candidate who was eminently suitable for the role of Director of the GCSB.  Perhaps now we are starting to understand why Ian Fletcher’s appointment seemingly related to,

  • the Crown’s case against Kim Dotcom
  • Illegal downloads/Intellectual Property rights
  • MPAA concerns
  • Hollywood big business
  • Trans Pacific Partnership

And as Key himself admitted, the issue of Kim Dotcom had been raised by Hollywood executive. Just what does our Prime Minister have to discuss with said executives? Who knows – it’s all done in secret, behind closed doors. We’re just expected to pay our taxes and shut up.

Conspiracy theory?

Conspiracy theories remain the subjects of idle parlour chit-chat and somewhat kooky websites… well, until charges are laid. Then a conspiracy theory becomes a conspiracy case in a Court of Law.

This affair should serve as a warning for the next in-coming Labour-Green government. National’s administration is a text-book case of how not to do things.

Every minister in the next Labour-Green government should be appointed a “minder” to ensure that they do things By The Book, and not to cut one single corner. Or at the very least, periodically re-read press reports and blogposts detailing every f**k-up by National over the last four years.

New Zealand is a small country. Secrets are notoriously difficult to keep. And even if the whole story behind the Fletcher-Dotcom-GCSB-TPPA thing has not been fully revealed – I think we’ve had a glimpse into the murky shadows of political perfidity to smell something rotten.

The issue has not only further dented Key’s credibility, but is starting to wear down his public persona of  good natured, ‘blokeyness’,

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John Key calls media 'Knuckleheads'

Acknowledgement:  NZ Herald – John Key calls media ‘Knuckleheads’

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Abusing the media? Not a good look for Dear Leader. It appears that the stress of the job is getting to him. And he can’t handle it very well.

Key’s “blokeyness” morphes into bratty petulance when he further dictates the terms under which he will talk to the media and in Parliament,

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PM John Key

‘What I should have done, and what I will be doing in the future, is saying, well, the member needs to put that down to me in writing, and I’ll be doing that to the journalists as well.
‘Cos if you want perfection of everything I have done, two, three, four, five years ago, I will get you all that information for you, but I’ll get you the whole lot and give it to you.”

Acknowledgement: Fairfax Media – John Key changes tack over questioning

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This is “seige mentality” stuff.

Key’s teflon coating wore away over a year ago. With no defensive cloak, the media recognise a government and it’s leader who are in dire trouble and  on the defensive.

As Martyn ‘Bomber’ Bradbury wrote on “The Daily Blog”,

“John Key’s extraordinary appointment of his school-hood chum to be the new Director of our spy network could well be his ‘speeding in the Prime Ministerial Limo’ moment.”

Acknowledgement: The Daily Blog – John Key’s ‘speeding in the Prime Ministerial Limo’ moment

And as Bryce Edwards noted in the NZ Herald on 4 April,

“As a barometer of the political media, John Armstrong is always useful, and it appears that he too ‘smells blood’.”

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Political round-up: John Key’s precarious credibility

There are more headlines to come out of Key and National. It’s only a matter of time.

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Related blogposts

Crony Watch!

References

Fairfax Media: New Zealand’s new top spy boss revealed (8 Sept 2011)

The Listener: Kim Dotcom and Megaupload: a timeline (20 March 2013)

Scoop: Kim Dotcom Illegal Surveillance And Response: Timeline (28 March 2013)

Fairfax Media:  Fletcher’s appointment defended by SSC boss (3 April 2013)

Radio NZ: State Services boss ‘surprised’ at PM’s phone call (4 April 2013)

NZ Herald: PM paints himself into another corner  (4 April 2013)

NBR: Honesty bigger issue than cronyism (4 April 2013)

NZ Herald: PM put mate’s case for job in 2009 (5 April 2013)

Radio NZ:  PM has no regrets about calling Fletcher (5 April 2013)

Fairfax Media: John Key changes tack over questioning (5 April 2013)

Scoop: Kim Dotcom Part Two (4 April 2013)

NZ Herald: PM put mate’s case for job in 2009 (5 April 2013)

Radiolive: Former GCSB boss intrigued by Ian Fletcher appointment – Audio  (5 April 2013)

NZ Herald: Ian Fletcher appointment a ‘totally ethical process’ (5 April 2013)

NZ Herald: John Key calls media ‘Knuckleheads’ (6 April 2013)

Other blogs

The Standard: The CV of a spy-boss

The Standard: Fletcher GCSB Change manager – and QLD

The Daily Blog: John Key’s ‘speeding in the Prime Ministerial Limo’ moment

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Crony Watch!

18 November 2012 22 comments

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Cronywatch*…

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…Keeping an eye on dodgy government appointees, crony-by-crony!

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In this on-going Thread, I will be reporting on blatant political cronyism from this current government. Considering that the NBR ceased their version of  “Cronywatch” in late 2008, I thought it would be helpful if folks knew what John Key and his government were up to.

Cronyism is when appointments to various quangos, Boards, organisations, departments, and even unofficial positions, are made for no other apparent reason than their membership, or close affialiation to, the National government. Governments do this for various reasons; to keep on eye on things; to try to influence decision-making; to ensure that their policies are carried out according to their agenda; and perhaps even a bit of  ‘pay back‘.

This sort of thing was/is verey commonplace under authoritarian regimes where democracy and an independent civil service are alien concepts. So it is more than a little disturbing when we find such occurrences here, in little old Godzone.

So every time I find a political appointee, I’ll report it here. With each up-date added to this Thread, I’ll ‘bump‘ it back up to the top of Recent Posts.

And now for some cronies…

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Catherine Isaac

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Catherine Isaac

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Catherine Isaac,

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

Despite having zero experience in the education sector, Ms Isaac was appointed by ACT MP, John “I-Don’t-Know-I-Can’t-Recall”  Banks to chair the Charter School Working Group. Ms Isaac’s only tenuous links to educatuion is that she has served on a School Board. (In which case, I look forward to serving on a DHB and thereafter beginning  a practice in brain surgery…)

As most folk know, Charter Schools is an ACT policy. Ms Isaac was appointed by ACT MP, John “What-helicopter-flights?” Banks.  And Ms Isaac is an ACT Party member, ex-candidate, and President.

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_______________________________________

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Belinda Milnes

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Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has appointed a former official from her own office to the board of the Families Commission.

Belinda Milnes, a former senior policy adviser for Mrs Bennett, has been appointed to the commission for three years.

The minister has been unavailable to discuss the appointment, but in a statement says Ms Milnes understands social policy and is the best person for the job.”

Source: Radio NZ – Bennett appoints former official to commission board

Interestingly, Paula Bennett made no mention of Ms Milnes’ connection with her office when she released this media statement,

” Social Development Minister Paula Bennett today announced two new appointments to the Families Commission.

Sir Peter Gluckman and Belinda Milnes have been appointed to the Board of the Families Commission for a period of three years.

The Families Commission is currently undergoing a restructure to assume its new role providing independent monitoring, evaluation and research.

“We’ve appointed the best people for the job to oversee a major change programme within the Families Commission,” says Mrs Bennett.

The Government is reprioritising a minimum of $14.2 million of the $32.48 million funding the Families Commission receives over four years to set up a new Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (SuPERU).

“This unit will provide research and best practise advice to government and non-government organisations,” says Mrs Bennett.

This unit will independently monitor and evaluate programmes and initiatives in the social sector, a job currently done largely by Government Departments.

“I believe giving this role to an independent body will see more community organisations entering into robust evaluation and monitoring”. “

Source: Appointments to Families Commission

I wonder how much ” independent monitoring, evaluation and research” will be produced by the new “Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit ” when it is staffed by National Party appointees who have been functionaries within a Minister’s office?

At least the Minister will hear only what she wants to hear, with no pesky dissenting opinions upsetting her day…

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Richard Long

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Former National Party chief of staff Richard Long has been appointed to the board of TVNZ.

[…] He spent two years as chief of staff for National leaders Bill English and Don Brash after leaving the Dominion in 2002.”

Source: Former National Party chief of staff appointed to TVNZ board

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Katherine Rich (#2)

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Frank Macskasy Blog Frankly Speaking

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Frank  Macskasy Blog  Frankly Speaking

(L-R) National MPs Simon Powell, Katherine Rich, former National leader Don Brash, National MPs Nathan Guy and Gerry Brownlee applaud John Key as he delivers his speech as the New Zealand National Party launch their election campaign at Sky City on October 12, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.

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The latest cronyist-appointment is (again)  former National MP and CEO  of the Food and Grocery Council,  Katherine Rich, to the newly formed  Health Promotion Agency.

The Council  represents a $15 billion food and beverage industry and exerts considerable influence on food legislation and trade practices.

The Council was a vocal opponant, and campaigned against,   mandatory inclusion of vitamin B9 (folic acid) in bread (to prevent crippling  birth defects such as spina bifida) and  anti-obesity proposals such as taxing  sugar. It supports liberal trading policies for alcohol.

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

The Health Promotion Agency incorporates  the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC), the Health Sponsorship Council and other  promotion work by the Ministry of Health.

ALAC was an organisation tasked with addressing the growing incidence of alcohol abuse in this country. This increasingly destructive social  problem  has been calculated to be a $4 billion-plus crisis in our society, wasting valuable health, police, judicial, and ACC  resources, and impacting on employment and family life.

It therefore seems somewhat incongruous to appoint a person who  in deeply involved in the alcohol industry in a government body that has a role in identifying and addressing alcohol problems in our society.

In fact, one could see this as a conflict of interest. John Key’s bland assurances therefore sound rather hollow,

I’m comfortable that she’ll be able to manage any conflict….It’s important that a board has a range of different views.” – Source

Key’s views on the Food and Grocery Council’s emotion-laden campaign against folic acid was no less derisable,

The debate wasn’t around whether folic acid might or might not work. It was about people’s rights to have that put in every piece of bread. There’s quite a difference there.”

Unfortunately,  Mr Key fails to realise that foetuses deprived of this critical vitamin B9; are born with spina bifida; and spend their entire (shortened) lives in a wheelchair, have no such “rights” to choose. Foetuses rely on adults to consume appropriate foods and beverages.

Way to go, Mr Key. The manipulation of public opinion on this issue  by the Food and Grocery Council was predicated on saving money for the food industry.

But it’s taxpayers who have to pick up the medical and welfare tab for people with neural tube defects (spina bifida).

That, plus the Food and Grocery Council’s staunch advocacy for the proliferation of alcohol retailing, makes Ms Rich wholly inappropriate for this new government body.

Ms Rich has neo-liberal views on the production and retailing of alcohol,

The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) and Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) strongly backed the recommendations.

Alac chief executive Gerard Vaughan said it set out a clear objective of reducing alcohol-related harm which stretched to structure and role changes for the district licensing agencies responsible for managing liquor licensing in their own communities.

Communities up and down the country were sick of the violence and vandalism that came with drinking and that proposed changes to licencing regimes would help address the problem, Mr Vaughan said.

Nearly 3000 submissions were received by the commission, many of which supported the tightening of laws around alcohol sales, purchasing and consumption.

But NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said the report reflected “classic nanny state thinking.”

It failed to target those causing the problems and punished everyone, she said. The industry was already one of the most regulated, and more sensible ways to approach existing problems included better enforcement of current rules and better use of legal powers, along with industry-led initiatives.”   Source

Final word to someone more concerned with social issues (rather than profits),

Professor Sellman says supermarkets normalise alcohol as an ordinary commodity and sell it by the tonne at ultra-cheap prices up to 24 hours a day.

He believes Ms Rich’s appointment is a major conflict of interest and indicates the Government wants to have the alcohol industry strongly represented in its preparations for the new agency.

“Seventy percent of the alcohol that’s sold in New Zealand comes through supermarkets and here we have a person in Katherine Rich who’s a staunch defender of the excessive commercialisation of alcohol, particularly though supermarkets, and she’s on a board that is presumably about decreasing the heavy drinking culture”. Source, Radio NZ

See:   Lobbyist appointment no conflict: Key

See:   BERL Report Costs of harmful alcohol and other drug use

See:   Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association: Folic acid and neural tube defects in New Zealand: a cautionary tale?

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Other blogs

The Standard: Katherine Rich on the Health Promotion Board: The next outrageous piece of Nat cronyism

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Roger Sowry

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Roger Sowry has been a National Party MP from 1990 to 2005 – five consecutive terms.  The first two terms were as MP for Kapiti, the latter three as a Party List MP.  He became Chief Executive of Arthritis New Zealand, and then worked at Saunders Unsworth,as a “consultant on Government matters” (ie; lobbyist).

Party positions held:

  • National MP 1990 – 2005
  • 1993, appointed Junior Party Whip
  • 1995, appointed Senior Party Whip
  • 1996, appointed Minister for Social Welfare
  • 1998, appointed Minister of Social Services, Work and Income; Minister in charge of War Pensions;  Minister responsible for the Housing Corporation; and Associate Minister of Health
  • Appointed Deputy Leader of  National Government from October 2001 to October 2003

Government appointments:

Prime Minister John Key said he would not describe Mr Sowry as a party hack and he was qualified for the job.   “We are not going to preclude people solely because they’ve been involved with the National Party. If we were to do that then the talent pool is going to be substantially reduced,” Mr Key said. – Source

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Wyatt Creech

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Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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_______________________________________

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Judy Kirk

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Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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_______________________________________

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Jim McLay

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Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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_______________________________________

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Penny Webster

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Party Positions held:

Government appointments:

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Brian Neeson

Ravi Musuku

Ken Shirley

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(L-R) Brian Neeson – Ken Shirley – Ravi Musuku

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All three men were appointed to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.  All three have connectionas to National, or in Ken Shirley’s case, to ACT, one of National’s coalition partners.

Brian Neeson

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

The appoint was made by the Minister –  without being interviewed, as is the usual process,

“It is the chair’s view that without interviews by an appropriately selected interview panel, the process will not provide an opportunity to properly assess the candidates suitability,” advice to Power in July last year said.

“The required skills cannot be evaluated without interview. He [Mr Hindle] has also expressed concern that the suggested appointment of member without interview would be at odds with the practice of past years“.” – Source

Which was unfortunate, as Neeson has a shocking record for anti-gay/lesbian beliefs that can only be described as homophobic.  He consistently voted against including gays/lesbians in protective Human Rights legislation and voted against legislation to outlaw employment discrimination based on gender. (See ” National’s version of ‘human rights’ ” at Tumeke, for full details.)

It is difficult to understand how someone of Mr Neeson’s beliefs can contribute to human rights issues in NZ, unless his appointment is specifically designed to curtail human rights for women and minority groups?

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Ravi Musuku

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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Ken Shirley

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

Statement on Maori:

Graduation day at Te Wananga. Soon after the Labour Government came to office it started showering money on all things Maori. ” – NZ Herald

Soon after the Labour Government came to office, ushering in its flagship ‘Closing the Gaps’ programmes. It started showering money on all things Maori. ” – Ibid

Out of this Te Wananga o Aotearoa pocketed $5.8 million and said that would go a long way towards providing for its growth. ” – Ibid

But the Government went further. Closing the Gaps demanded even more taxpayer money be thrown at Maori. ” – Ibid

Despite its apparent concern, it has continued to shovel huge sums of taxpayer money to this institution – all in the name of the treaty. ” – Ibid

The Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commissioners have foreshadowed that the decision to allow the Maori Land Court to hear iwi claims to the foreshore and seabed of the Marlborough Sounds opens the way for similar claims around the country” ACT New Zealand Deputy Leader Ken Shirley said today.

I now call upon Prime Minister Helen Clark to act consistently, and to declare such claims off limits -as she recently did in the case of the claim for oil and gas reserves. In this instance, it was made quite clear that oil, gas and mineral reserves were vested in the Crown by legislation in 1937.”Press releases on Court of Appeal decision on foreshores and seabed, Recreation Access

I am again calling on the Labour Government to act decisively. It must spell out the bounds to claims – in order to prevent undue anxiety for tens of thousands of New Zealanders, and to ensure that iwi don’t waste any more time and money pursuing claims that should be off limits.” – Ibid

Hopefully Mr Shirley’s anti-Treaty and knee-jerk anti-Maori  beliefs will not be carried over to the Human Rights Review Tribunal.

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.(Acknowledgement: David M. and Tumeke)

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Wayne Mapp

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Wayne Mapp (L) and John Key (R)

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Announced on 28 February 2012 by Judith Collins, the Minister Responsible for the Law Commission;  the appointment of  National’s  former Defence Minister, Wayne Mapp to the Commission.

Party positions held:

  • National MP from 1996 to 2011
  • Appointed as “Political Correctness Eradicator” in October 2005, by former National Party leader, Don Brash
  • Chair of National Caucus Policy Committee
  • Minister of Defence
  • Minister of Science and Innovation

Government appointments:

  • New Zealand  Law Commission

The Law Commission is an independent Crown entity under the Crown Entities Act 2004. It is funded by government and reviews areas of the law that need updating, reforming or developing. It makes recommendations to Parliament, and these recommendations are published in our report series.  The Law Commission helps to maintain the quality of New Zealand law to meet the current and future needs of our rapidly changing society. The Commission’s objective is to improve the quality, relevance and effectiveness of New Zealand law, by informing and supporting discussion on and making recommendations to Parliament for law reform.” – Source

I suspect that the Law Commission may have just become a somewhat less “independent Crown entity “.

(Acknowledgement: David M.)

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Kerry Prendergast

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L-R: John Banks (obscured), John Key, Maurice Williamson, Kerry Prendergast

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Best known as Wellington’s mayor from 2001 – 2010, Prendergast is also a member of the National Party.

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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Sir Wira Gardiner

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Full Story

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Party Positions held:

Government appointments:

1. Background

2. Background

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Stephen McElrea

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Party Positions held:

Government Appointments:

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Some weeks ago, a furore erupted when NZ on Air boardmember, Stephen McElrea, complained about the broadscasting of a document on TV3, just four days before the Elections last year.

The documentary was a highly critical look at growing child poverty in this country.

The timing of the documentary’s broadcasting  was criticised by Stephen McElrea, who complained that it was highly politicised and could impact of NZ on Air’s “impartiality”. There were suggestion made that NZ on Air should have authority over when programme  should be broadcast.

Some weeks ago, a furore erupted when NZ on Air boardmember, Stephen McElrea, complained about the broadscasting of a document on TV3, just four days before the Elections last year.

The documentary was a highly critical look at growing child poverty in this country.

The timing of the documentary’s broadcasting  was criticised by Stephen McElrea, who complained that it was highly politicised and could impact of NZ on Air’s “impartiality”. There were suggestion made that NZ on Air should have authority over when programme  should be broadcast.

***Update***

It appears that Stephen McElrea was part of a working group that has committed NZ on Air funding to a “documentary” on Whanau Ora.

Whanau Ora is a government department created under the National-Maori Party Coalition arrangement after the 2008 General Election.

NZ On Air states that the “documentary” will  look  at “how successful this new initiative will be in assisting NZ’s most deprived families” and that it would be  “a behind the scenes look at the roll out of this new initiative that seeks to deliver positive social outcomes for Maori“.

It is somewhat difficult to see how a documentary could determine that Whanau Ora  can be a “successful… new initiative … in assisting NZ’s most deprived families” when it is still barely operating. There have been no assessments or measured outcomes yet (to my knowledge) that would merit a “documentary” on Whanau Ora’s “success” or otherwise.

The fact that Stephen McElrea was a participant in the decision-making process to fund this “documentary/propaganda” is clear evidence that NZ On Airs  independence has been compromised.

This is the result of  government cronyism.

Source:  Call for McElrea to resign from NZ On Air

Additional

Scoop.co.nz:  PM has questions to answer over NZ on Air link

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Catherine Isaac

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An announcement was made on 1 February that ACT  member;  former ACT Party List candidate, and former ACT Party President, Catherine Isaac,  had been appointed to oversee the introduction of the government’s Charter  Schools programme in South Auckland and Christchurch. Ms Isaacs has no formal experience in the education field.

John Banks defended Isaac’s appointment was stating that she has sat of a School Board of Trustees for six years.

In which case, if I sat on a District Health board for a similar period of  time, would that qualify me to carry out  thoracic open-heart surgery? Well, I guess that would be one way to “train” our doctors on the cheap and get rid of that pesky, expensive Med School in Dunedin.

Party Positions held:

Government Appointments:

It seems abundantly obvious that Isaac’s appointment is to ensure that ACT’s Charter School policy is implemented without usual critical oversight, and to further ensure that results are presented in a “positive light” to the public.

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Katherine Rich (#1)

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(L-R) National MPs Simon Powell, Katherine Rich, former National leader Don Brash, National MPs Nathan Guy and Gerry Brownlee applaud John Key as he delivers his speech as the New Zealand National Party launch their election campaign at Sky City on October 12, 2008 in Auckland, New Zealand.

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The National-led Government is defending its appointment of the Food and Grocery Council chief executive to a board which will set up a new health promotion agency.

Katherine Rich has been appointed to the Health Promotion Agency Establishment Board, which replaces the Alcohol Advisory Council.

The move has outraged advocacy group Alcohol Action. Spokesperson Doug Sellman says Ms Rich has been one of the most vociferous defenders of the alcohol industry.

Professor Sellman says supermarkets normalise alcohol as an ordinary commodity and sell it by the tonne at ultra-cheap prices up to 24 hours a day.

He believes Ms Rich’s appointment is a major conflict of interest and indicates the Government wants to have the alcohol industry strongly represented in its preparations for the new agency.

“Seventy percent of the alcohol that’s sold in New Zealand comes through supermarkets and here we have a person in Katherine Rich who’s a staunch defender of the excessive commercialisation of alcohol, particularly though supermarkets, and she’s on a board that is presumably about decreasing the heavy drinking culture.”

The Labour Party agrees the appointment of Katherine Rich is too much a conflict of interest.” – Source, Radio NZ

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The Radio NZ report does raise an important question regarding her appointment to  the Health Promotion Agency Establishment Board, which replaces the Alcohol Advisory Council.

ALAC was an organisation dedicated to raising awareness of New Zealand’s considerable alcohol related (some say fueled) problems.

2009 BERL report estimated that “$4.437 million of diverted resources and lost welfare” could be directly attributed to alcohol abuse. That $4.4 billion  is reflected in  ACC, hospital admissions, crime, family violence, lost productivity, etc, and places a firm dollar cost on the harm that alcohol abuse is causing NZ society. These are costs we all pay for through ACC levies and taxes spent on medical intervention; policing; and the justice system.

Whilst working for the Food and Grocery Council, Ms Rich was a firm advocate of liberal laws surrounding marketting and retailing of alcohol,

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The New Zealand Medical Association (NZMA) and Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) strongly backed the recommendations.

Alac chief executive Gerard Vaughan said it set out a clear objective of reducing alcohol-related harm which stretched to structure and role changes for the district licensing agencies responsible for managing liquor licensing in their own communities.

Communities up and down the country were sick of the violence and vandalism that came with drinking and that proposed changes to licencing regimes would help address the problem, Mr Vaughan said.

Nearly 3000 submissions were received by the commission, many of which supported the tightening of laws around alcohol sales, purchasing and consumption.

But NZ Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said the report reflected “classic nanny state thinking.”

It failed to target those causing the problems and punished everyone, she said. The industry was already one of the most regulated, and more sensible ways to approach existing problems included better enforcement of current rules and better use of legal powers, along with industry-led initiatives.”   Source

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New Zealand has a $4 billion-plus problem with alcohol abuse (BERL report) and Katherine Rich dismissed attempts to address this crisis as “classic nanny state thinking“?

It is worthwhile reflecting that since liquor laws were de-regulated in the mid 1980s (as part of the wave of Rogernomics “reforms”), that 25 years later things have gotten steadily worse.

Party positions held:

Government appointments:

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Mervyn English

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Full Story

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Though the State Services Commissioner  did find that they were satisfied with English’s appointment, one has to question why  the position was not publicly advertised, as is common practice?

Even if the SSC is satisfied of no inappropriateness, this brings up a valid point; how can we differentiate between blatant political appointees and those made on merit, if the entire system is brought into disrepute? Public perception is growing that this government is stacking various organisation Boards with party apparatchiks – and judging by recent events, that perception is not misplaced.

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Jenny Shipley

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Party Positions held:

  • National Party MP 1987 – 2002
  • Various ministerial portfolios
  • Prime Minister 1997 – 1999

Government appointments:

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Carried on at Frankly Speaking: Crony Watch

* Carrying on, where the National Business Review left of, in November 2008. (Which, by sheer coincidence, is when National took power.)

 

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= fs =

NZ on Air funding soft-core porn garbage? Since when? Since now!!

18 April 2012 7 comments

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From the  NZ Herald comes this mind-blowing piece of news,

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Full Story

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The article goes on to state,

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Though the Mozzies – aka Maori Aussies – play hard in Australia’s “ultimate party town” they are focused on business ventures and building their own personal empires.

They have not forgotten their roots and wear their tattoos proudly, acknowledge their iwi affiliations, and use te reo as well as GC slang.

Cast members include single rugby player Tame Noema, musician DJ Tuini, former X Factor contestants Jade Louise and Nuz, personal trainer Alby Waititi and singer Nate.

Their favourite phrases include “mumsies” (meaning girlfriends), “neff” (friend), “creep on” (scoring girls), “publics” (pubic hair) and “what doing?” (what’s up?).

The official website for The GC says Tame is the only single member of the cast, “which causes much angst for Jade and Zane’s girlfriends as he’s always trying to drag them out on his chick-chasing escapades”.

The show’s producers promise “hot hook-ups, a shock revelation from one of the group about their sexuality, all-over tans, and advice on how to score in a club, of course.”

Which should give the rumoured reality show about Sally and Jaime Ridge a run for its money.

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No way!?!?

*checks date*

Nope, it’s not an April Fools joke. NZ on Air is using taxpayers’ money to fund this garbage? We’re paying taxes to fund a programme showing us  “nine 20-somethings as they work and party hard with the goal of retiring sometime in their 30s hot hook-ups, a shock revelation from one of the group about their sexuality, all-over tans, and advice on how to score in a club” ???

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The GC follows the lives of a group of talented and attractive young Maori as they work hard and play even harder in Australia’s favourite playground, the glittering Gold Coast.

Talented and ambitious, the GC cast are chasing the good life on the Gold Coast. Some live together, some work together but they all play together.

This series offers a fascinating insight into the lives of nine young and successful Maori.

And they’re not alone.

Nearly 130,000 Maori now call Australia home and it is estimated as many as one in six Maori now live in Australia.

Every year thousands of Maori are drawn to the glamour and good life that the Gold Coast offers them.

And it’s not hard to see why. The warm climate, big paying jobs and cheaper living lures them there, and keeps them there.

The GC is where Australia comes to play and party. The famed Surfer’s Paradise strip is lined with high rise apartments and hotels, and crowded with clubs and bars.

It’s hugely competitive and young Maori are striving to reach the top.

They’re known as Mozzies – Maori Aussies – and they are grabbing the opportunities and living life to the full.

It asks what does it mean to be Maori on the Gold Coast as they chase the dream of a better life.

For the boys of the Whare it means playing hard in a town full of resort rich night life, but also investing in that town.” – Source

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If this is not someone’s idea of a bad-taste prank – then the board members on NZ on Air have lost their minds.

Even more derisable is that (if this is true), is that the producers are attempting to validate this infantile pap by using Maori to give some manner of cultural credibility? Oh puh-leese, give me a break. This reminds me of the “blaxploitation” genre films of the 1970s. It mixed sex with violence, using Black Americans, to exploit an ethnic group.

“The GC” appears to be a local version of that Hollywood cringe-worthy embarressment.

Is this now NZ on Air’s  funding agenda; a reality show with 20-somethings doing inane things?

In what way is this supposed to benefit us culturally? How is this educating us? How is dumbed-down, vacuous,  soft-corn porn supposed to broaden our minds?

I pray to whatever gods are up there, that this supposed “reality show” is a lame joke and NZ on Air has nothing to do with it.

Because if this is for real – heads must roll!  The entire NZ on Air Board should resign forthwith.(And repay any cash that they may have paid out up till now.)

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This is not what our taxes are meant to be directed at.

A quick check of NZ on Air’s funding allocation for 2012 shows no mention of anything called “The GC”,

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NZ On Air Television Funding Decisions

March 2012

Genre Programme Total Amount Approved No. Of Episodes Length of Episodes (minutes) Production Company Channel
Children GIRL VS BOY (additional) 34,600 8.0 30.0 KHF Media TV 2
Children SMOKEFREE ROCKQUEST 2012 301,312 6.0 30.0 Satin & Lace Productions FOUR
Comedy AGENT ANNA 1,359,850 6.0 30.0 Great Southern Television TV One
Comedy THE JONO PROJECT 3 897,364 20.0 30.0 TVWorks TV3
Documentary THE LAST OCEAN 80,000 1.0 90.0 The Ross Sea Documentary Prime
Documentary THE PROPHETS 211,524 7.0 30.0 Scottie Productions Maori Television
Documentary * THE FORGOTTEN GENERAL 179,971 1.0 60.0 Kingfisher Films Prime
Drama MEDICINE WOMAN 199,999 1.0 120.0 South Pacific Pictures TV One
Documentary ♦ THE YEAR OF THE ELEPHANT 109,948 1.0 60.0 Lippy Pictures TV One
Documentary ♦ SIEGE: THE INTERVIEWS 32,437 1.0 60.0 Screentime TV One

* This programme was supported by the NZ On Air Platinum fund

♦ These programmes were funded from TV One Docs

The Inside NZ working Group has made the following funding decision for TV3 documentaries:

Genre Programme Total Amount Approved No. Of Episodes Length of Episodes (minutes) Production Company Channel
Documentary YEAR OF THE DRAGON tbc 1.0 60.0 Firehorse TV3

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But just in case, this blogger has fired of an email to NZ on Air,

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Subject:  “The GC” – Please Confirm?
Date:        Sunday, 8 April, 2012 11:57 PM
From:     “Frank Macskasy” <fmacskasy@yahoo.com>
To:            info@nzonair.govt.nz
Cc:           “Minister of Broadcasting Craig Foss” <craig.foss@parliament.govt.nz>

Kia ora,

A recent NZ Herald story reports that a new, proposed reality show on TV3 called “The GC” will be attracting NZ on Air funding.

Can you please confirm that the Board of NZ on Air has not allocated tax-payers money to a reality show of 20-somethings, promising the viewer “nine 20-somethings as they work and party hard with the goal of retiring sometime in their 30s… hot hook-ups, a shock revelation from one of the group about their sexuality, all-over tans, and advice on how to score in a club” ?!?!

Hopefully, the Herald has mis-reported the claim that NZ on Air is now funding sexualised reality shows that instruct viewers how to “score in night clubs”.

If the Herald report is correct, please identify the part of your charter, mission statement, or legislation  confirming that reality shows fall within the ambit of NZ on Air.

NZ on Air’s funding of a reality show, using taxpayers money,  will be of considerable public interest and attention. Your organisation will have to explain how this type of commercialised, low-brow entertainment is of possible benefit to this country.

Regards,
-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

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Subject: “The GC” – Please Confirm?
Date:    Tuesday, 10 April, 2012 3:48 PM
From:    “Kartini Havell (MIN)” <kartini.havell@parliament.govt.nz>
To:      “fmacskasy@yahoo.com” <fmacskasy@yahoo.com>

Dear Mr Macskasy

Thank you for your email of 8 April 2012 to the Minister of Broadcasting.  The Minister will consider the issues you have raised and respond as soon as he is able.

Best regards

Kartini Havell
Private Secretary – Broadcasting
Office of the Hon Craig Foss
Minister of Broadcasting
Private Bag 18041
Parliament Buildings
WELLINGTON 6160

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NZ on Air has not replied to my 8 April email. I did, however, leave this message on NZ on Air’s Facebook page,

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This has to be the worst waste of taxpayers’ money since… since… Hell, I dunno, it just IS!

What on earth possessed you people to use our money for this “reality” soft-core porn?! Are there no other aspects of NZ culture, current events, issues worth looking into?

After you funded Bryan Bruce’s excellent document, “Inside Child Poverty”, you folks set a high benchmark for television production.

You have let yourselves down badly with this latest effort. Having to endure reality garbage, endless cooking shows, and US crime-porn on almost every channel is bad enough. Having our taxes funding this is a gross insult.

I repeat; what were you people thinking?!?!

Shame on you all.

PS: I am guessing that your failure to reply to my email on this issue on 8 April indicates you have no answer to the criticisms I raised?

That was posted at 12.57pm, 18 April 2012.

Which seems to have suddenly prompted this imediate response from NZ on Air’s Jane Wrightson,

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Subject: RE: “The GC” – Please Confirm?
Date:    Wednesday, 18 April, 2012 2:25 PM
From:   “Jane Wrightson” <Jane@nzonair.govt.nz>
To:     “fmacskasy@yahoo.com” <fmacskasy@yahoo.com>

Dear Mr Macskasy

Thank you for your email.

I confirm we have helped fund the documentary series The GC. The proposal talks about young Maori succeeding in Australia. We were pleased to support a prime time series that intends to provide stories of successful Maori who are proud of their culture and are making a good life for themselves.

We have not seen the series yet. I have no doubt some of the fun parts of being young are included in the programme. I do not know in what detail and I imagine they will be balanced with other aspects of life. It’s true that the network’s publicity release seems somewhat lurid in its description: we’ll reserve our judgment until we see the series and the audience response. As you may know our legislation does not permit us to be involved in editorial matters.

Thanks you for your interest

Yours sincerely
Jane Wrightson

Jane Wrightson  |  Chief Executive
NZ On Air  |  Irirangi Te Motu
04 382 9524 (tel)  | 04 382 9546 (fax)   
jane@nzonair.govt.nz  |  http://www.nzonair.govt.nz http://www.kiwihits.co.nz
PO Box 9744  |  Wellington  |  New Zealand  |  6141

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Now, I’m not suggesting that NZ on Air be “involved in editorial matters” – I would be the first to jump on that bandwagon, opposing any such suggestion. It is not up to NZ on Air to be involved in any of the programmes it funds.

However, NZ on Air does have a responsibility as to which programming recieves taxpayer funding.

On their webpage, “Our Funding Strategy“, NZ on Air states,

Our funding strategy reflects our values. We look for: innovation and creativity in programme proposals; for diversity of faces, stories and storytellers to reflect all New Zealanders; and value for money.
What we fund

The Broadcasting Act 1989 determines our genre priorities. Within each genre we fund projects that the market alone would not support. Before applying you must secure a commitment from a free-to-air New Zealand broadcaster to screen your programme. “

One cannot help but wonder how an overtly commercial reality show, which promises that the central characters,

  “… play hard in Australia’s “ultimate party town” they are focused on business ventures and building their own personal empires...

…Tame is the only single member of the cast, “which causes much angst for Jade and Zane’s girlfriends as he’s always trying to drag them out on his chick-chasing escapades”.

The show’s producers promise “hot hook-ups, a shock revelation from one of the group about their sexuality, all-over tans, and advice on how to score in a club, of course.

How is any of that “creative” or “innovative”?

And why is “the market” not funding a format – a reality show – that is clearly of a commercial nature? Why is taxpayers money being used on such a venture?

As this blogger wrote on NZ on Air’s Facebook page,

After you funded Bryan Bruce’s excellent document, “Inside Child Poverty”, you folks set a high benchmark for television production.

It is a shame thathigh benchmark has not been maintained.

But maybe, hopefully, this series will not be as ‘ somewhat lurid ‘ as it’s publicity  would have us believe.

Probably NZ on Air is also hoping.

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Acknowledgement

NZ Sentinel Blog

References

Broadcasting Act 1989

Additional 

NZ Herald: Viewers want ‘The GC’ cancelled

Facebook:  Cancel ‘The GC’ TV Show

Tom Frewen: GC In Breach Of Funding Agreement?

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Inconvenient truths? No go, Fair Go!!

3 March 2012 6 comments

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Imagine a future society where citizens have global communications, entertainment, and news-information available at the press of a button, and can be viewed on large, wall-mounted, video-screens. Imagine that almost every part of the planet is accessible  to our gaze, courtesy of a network of media agencies; citizen journalists, and an orbital spider-web of communication-satellites.

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In this futuristic society, nothing is denied to us.  We can see, hear, experience, and understand almost every aspect of human civilisation, past, present, and possible futures.

The year of this futuristic world? 2012AD.

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The future is here and now. Everything I described above is reality – none of it science fiction.

Unfortunately for us, despite the vast amount of human knowledge now available to us at our finger-tips; despite the in-depth information that can explain everything from Middle Eastern background-politics to the latest updates in all the sciences – our television is now geared toward the mental age of a 14 year old child.

And things are not getting better…

Last year, as many will recall, TV3 was lambasted by NZ On Air’s board member, and National Party apparatchik, Stephen McElrea, who attempted to interfere with the scheduling of programmes funded by NZoA, and which might be embarressing to the National Government.

The timing of the documentary’s broadcasting  was criticised by McElrea, who complained that it was highly politicised and could impact of NZ on Air’s “impartiality”. There were suggestion made that NZ on Air should have authority over when programme  should be broadcast.

“Impartiality” in this case being code for “embarressing”.

McElrea and NZoA’s board quickly backed down in the ensuing public storm. It was one thing to stack government ‘quangos’ with party hacks – but quite another to openly try to interfere in the independence of such groups. That was a step too far. (Especially for supporters of incumbent governments, who prefer such shady political dealings behind firmly closed doors.)

Sadly, the state of public broadcasting in this country has already gone to the dogs.

In August last year, the Public Charter governing New Zealand was finally dumped. Any pretence that TVNZ was a public broadcaster committed to quality, informative, intelligent programming had finally been despatched to Neverneverland. TVNZ could now get on with it’s top three aims,

  1. Make money
  2. Make money
  3. Make more money

TVNZ could now broadcast as much food “porn” (cooking shows); reality TV; American sitcoms; and guesome crime shows with their nauseating misogyny; as they could fill in the hours. All interspersed with as much advetising as they could physically cram in between their rubbish programmes. (And often during programmes.)

The last remaining bastions of intelligent broadcasting (for the moment) are,

Unfortunately, TVNZ7 is doomed to disappear in June/July, as National refuses to continue funding the station. More on TVNZ7’s impendind demise here, by David Beatson.

That leaves us with…? Bugger all.

Even documentary-making is now under constant  threat; “Fair Go” has had the Hard Word put on them by TVNZ’s “Head of TV1 and TV2”, Jeff Latch.

According to “Fair Go” staff, Latch “was invited” to attend a staff-meeting of the popular consumer-advocate/investigative show, as a “guest”, where he says he told staff,

I also made the observation that we operate in a commercial environment  and that ‘Fair Go’ like all our programmes need to exercise care in the terms of the way they handles stories.” – Source, Radio NZ

Why would a programme that deals in consumer-investigate reporting have to be mindful that TVNZ “operate[s] in a commercial environment” and “need[s] to exercise care in the terms of the way they handles stories” ?!?!

Latch went on to say,

They need to make sure that they’re always balanced, because in a commercial environment a story that is not a balance story could be something that is not really what we would want to run on this network. ” – Ibid

There’s that reference to being  “in a commercial environment ” again.

When asked if his comments were a clumsily-coded warning to “Fair Go” staff not to upset advertising clients, he replied,

It wasn’t an instruction, per se“. – Source, Fairfax News

There are two things that really annoy the heck out of me,

  1. Politicians or company bosses who try to interfere with the autonomy of an independent party,
  2. Politicians or company bosses who – when caught out –  then treat us, the public, as blithering idiots, with blatantly spurious denials which they know, and we know, are pure bovine excrement.

It is hardly surprising that Latch put the Hard Word on the “Fair Go” team, considering that,

Jeff [Latch] has full accountability for driving the performance of our core channels, TV ONE and TV2. Prior to joining TVNZ again in 2006, Jeff had been with TVNZ for thirteen years as both Head of Sales and Head of Moving Pictures. ” – Source, TVNZ

Like Stephen McElrea, who tried to bring pressure to bear on TV3 – this time for political purposes – it appears that Latch has taken his commercial “imperivative” a step further and is now attempting to influence “Fair Go” so as not to alienate TVNZ’s advertisers.

Or, as lawyer and media-legal blogger, Stephen Price, wrote,

It does make sense. So much sense, in fact, that you have to wonder why Jeff Latch had to organise a meeting with Fair Go to tell them that. Did he also mention that they should try to be accurate? Not defame people? Latch should know that Fair Go are probably the TVNZ reporters best versed in broadcasting standards and media law, since they deal with them every week. (Back in my days at Kensington Swan, I used to provide advice to them).

Asked if he was instructing Fair Go not to produce programmes that upset advertisers, he said “it wasn’t an instruction, per se.”

Not per se? This sounds weasily to me. Was it a hint, Mr Latch?

Because actually, Fair Go has a pretty good track record in its broadcasting standards complaints. It has not been listed in the BSA’s “Most complained about” shows for at least the past three years, despite the fact that it often makes serious accusations against people with the resources to sue. Likewise, there haven’t been any reported defamation cases against them in the last few years, as far as I can tell. Was there a big secret settlement recently?

If not, Mr Latch – how should I put this? – you should stay the fuck away from the Fair Go staff. It’s their job to tackle TVNZ’s advertisers when that is merited, and it’s your job to hire good journos then leave them to get on with their job.” – Media Law Journal

(That was worthwhile re-printing in it’s entirety, as Price went straight to the nub of this fiasco.)

It should be fairly evident to any reasonably perceptive person that free-to-air TV is a commercialised creature, and for the most part, quite a dumb one.

TVNZ – despite being a state owned enterprise – can no longer be called a “public broadcaster” in any meaningful sense of the term. It is nothing more than a cash cow (muchlike our state owned power companies) which the government uses to bolster it’s revenue.

As David Beatson wrote last July on Pundit,

Official papers show Television New Zealand won $79 million in government funding for its advertising-free channels TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7, by claiming they would be self-funding by 2012. Now they are closing the new channels down to enhance profits.

Television New Zealand told the last Labour government that two advertising-free channels it was launching to lure viewers onto the Freeview digital transmission platforms would be self-funding by 2012…

…On that basis, Labour agreed five years ago to commit $79 million over six years to get TVNZ 6 and 7 up and running, and a further $25 million over five years to get the Freeview digital transmission platforms established. This funding was in addition to the $15 million a year that Labour had already committed to TVNZ to meet its public service charter responsibilities.

Somewhere between TVNZ’s committment to the previous Labour government; the dissolution of the Charter; and the decision to abandon TVNZ7 and replace it with a shopping channel (!), committments to non-commercial, public broadcasting have been abrogated.

Appeals to this government to save TVNZ7 as one of the last two remaining free-to-air broadcasters  has fallen on deaf ears. (I expected nothing less. National MPs are individuals who know the price of everything – and the value of nothing.)

After July, the only remaining public, non-commercial broadcaster will be Radio NZ. And that station is badly under-funded.

As for NZ on Air, a body supposedly responsible for bringing quality programming to our TV screens, their latest funding project is for… reality tv. I kid you not,

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The cunningness of NZ on Air funding a commercial reality show, is amazing. It works like this,

  1. The government funds NZ on Air,
  2. NZ on Air funds a commercial reality-show, designed to attract maximum ratings and advertising revenue for TVNZ,
  3. TVNZ makes a good return on the show, through advertising revenue,
  4. Government then recieves a higher dividend from TVNZ,
  5. More money from TVNZ makes government accounts look better,
  6. Which helps National’s re-election chance in 2014.

Even Baldrick would be hard-pressed to come up with an even more cunning plan.

None of which contributes one iota to intelligent, informative broadcasting in New Zealand.

In my opinion, public broadcasting in this country is doomed under this current government. National has no committment to a non-commercial, public service. It’s only interest is (a) earning revenue from a profit-driven TVNZ and (b) coincidentally neutering critical, investigative journalism that might uncover stories potentially embarressing to Key’s government. (Stephen McElrea’s appointment to NZ on Air’s Board facilitates the latter.)

This is an issue of critical importance to our nation; our society; and our democracy.

As Blogger and Radio NZ un-person, Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury wrote, “The dumber the media, the number the electorate. Nowhere is this more evident than in the USA, where Fox News makes our talkback radio look like high culture at a Mensa meeting.

We’re well on the way to following our American cuzzies.

Without a strong, non-commercial,  public broadcaster, committed to informing the public – we become like the programmes we watch; dumbed down; ill-informed; and easily manipulated by politicians who desire our uncritical support, and most importantly, our vote.

The reaction from certain quarters to Bryan Bruce’s documentary on child poverty, last year,  was an unequivocal example of how much fear there is of informative, critical programmes that provoke debate and public scrutiny,

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A new, incoming, Labour-led government must take bold initiatives to redress the parlous state of our public broadcasting. The dumbing down of broadcasting, with the associated apathetic dumbing down of the public is as much of a threat – if not greater –  to our democracy than any “red menace” in the past; current, global US-led/Islamic conflict; or trans-national corporate takeover of our country.

This is as important as child-poverty in New Zealand because this is about intellectual-poverty.

Umpteen cooking shows, reality shows, banal comedies, crime-police “drama-porn”, et al, do not enrich our understanding of our society; our institutions; the issues confronting our nation and the world beyond.

Accordingly, any new progressive government must seriously consider the following:

  1. A non-commercial, public broadcaster – either TV1 or resurrected TVNZ7 – devoted to quality, informative programming; local drama; community productions;  and a comprehensive news/current affairs service.
  2. Funding levels for TV1/TVNZ7 and Radio NZ to be removed from the auspices of the Minister of Broadcasting (or any other  politician or Cabinet) and placed into the hands of an independent body such as the Remuneration Authority (the independent body that sets politicians’ pay).
  3. Enshrining a non-commercial, public TV broadcaster; Radio NZ; and Remuneration Authority-style funding system,
  • either in law; requiring a 75% vote in Parliament to amend or dis-establish,
  • or using a system of seven-year-minimum contracts.

TVNZ and Radio NZ were created ostensibly in such a manner as to prevent direct interference by politicians. However, politicians being the manipulative, arrogant creatures that they are,  simply cannot help but place their sticky fingers all over state broadcasting by any means possible. This usually involves remote-interference by  starving a state broadcaster of funding – which achieves pretty much the same goal as issuing dictats from on-high.

If New Zealand is to achieve the worthy goal of re-building a public, non-commercial TV broadcaster and adequately funding Radio NZ, then it must be taken out of the hands of politicians. Our elected representatives  have demonstrated that they are too self-serving to be trusted with something as critically vital to our society as the viability of public broadcasting.

If they cannot be trusted to set their own salaries, superannuation, and perks-of-office – they sure as hell can’t be trusted with our TV and radio.

It’s time to take the remote out of their hands.

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Previous Blog Posts

Fear and loathing in the Fascist State of New Zealand

Fear and loathing in the Fascist State of New Zealand – Part Deux

Fear and loathing in the Fascist State of New Zealand – Part Trois

Other Blog Posts

Pundit: TVNZ kills ad-free channels to grow profits

Tumeke: From ‘Fair Go’ to ‘Tame Blow’

Public Address: Freakanomics (TVNZ Edition)

Media Law Journal: Doesn’t sound like a fair go to me

Additional Reading

Scoop: Tom Frewen – NZ on Air Spooked by Political Interference

NZ Herald: Taxpayers’ $1.6m for talent show

NZ Herald: No eleventh hour reprieve for TVNZ7

Radio NZ: TVNZ accused of not wanting to upset advertisers

Radio NZ: Fair Go creator on claim show could be compromised :

NZ Herald: TV boss denies instruction to protect advertisers

Fairfax: Fair Go told not to upset advertisers, Labour claims

Fairfax: Losing public TV to infomercials

Green Party Broadcasting Policy

Labour Party Broadcasting Statements