10 May 2024

TVNZ news cuts and closures in limbo

From Mediawatch, 5:35 pm on 10 May 2024

TVNZ has been told it failed to fulfil obligations to its journalists when it decided to cut dozens of jobs and close news and current affairs shows. The future of journalists and top-rating programmes due to end this month is now unclear.


The Employment Relations Authority has ruled TVNZ breached its collective agreement with the E tū union when its management made the decision in March to axe Fair Go and Sunday, along with its midday and late night news bulletins

It followed a round of belt-tightening announced last September and a 13 percent slump in revenue recorded in the last half of 2023.

68 staff members in news, current affairs and in video production were due to lose their jobs.

On Friday the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) ordered the broadcaster to go into mediation with E tū, the main journalists' union.

"The Authority finds that TVNZ has breached clause 10.1.1 of the collective agreement," the ruling stated.

It said if matters were not resolved after mediation, an order would be made against TVNZ to comply.

E tū union took the case against TVNZ because it said it did not follow the consultation requirements set out under its collective agreement with its members. 

TVNZ executives and staff gave evidence in an investigation meeting at the ERA in Auckland on Monday, followed by hearings on Tuesday. 

Former cabinet minister and Labour Party MP Michael Wood represented TVNZ journalists from the E tū union.

“We want a sustainable future for TVNZ. We want engagement with staff at the heart of that,” Wood told Checkpoint today. 

“We are really happy but not surprised. The process was a clear breach of the collective agreement,” Wood said in a statement.

“Had TVNZ honoured the collective agreement from the beginning, we may well have reached a much more favourable option for everyone.”

“Instead we’ve had a messy and incomplete consultation process, and the company steamed ahead with their plans to cancel our important news and current affairs shows.”“They need to engage much more fully – and that requirement is for the benefit of viewers, and the public as well as for workers at TVNZ.”

"We are disappointed by the decision today from the Employment Relations Authority. We will now take the time to consider the decision and our next steps," TVNZ said in a statement.

On 1 News at 6, reporter Kim Baker-Wilson said he asked if TVNZ would appeal the ruling. TVNZ only said it was "considering its next step," he said.     

TVNZ opposed the application, claiming the company had communicated clearly with staff and unions.

“It has been submitted that requiring TVNZ to redo things now would yield nothing new,” ERA member Peter Fuiava said in the determination. 

“There are 46 individuals represented by E tū who would say otherwise and who have not had the opportunity to be engaged in a decision-making process at a developmental stage as required by their collective agreement.”

TVNZ chief operating officer Brent McAnulty was interim chief executive until January 2024. 

When asked during he hearings about the consequences of repeating the redundancy processes to comply with the agreement, he said it would cause significant disruption.

"It would come at a lot of disruption to those shows and also the entire news team. I know some people involved in those shows (are) reluctantly looking to move on. Others have left the business. Dragging this out has caused them concern," he said.

"The collective agreement has very clear processes if TVNZ wants to make changes. It requires [staff] to be involved throughout the process and for the company to try and reach agreement with them,” Michael Wood told Mediawatch last month

"Staff have said: ‘Look, five years ago, we came to you and said we want to do these things with our shows to make sure they have a sustainable future to make sure that they have a strong online platform.' And [TVNZ] frankly has not demonstrated strategy and leadership around those things." 

Wood was one of the few people who has spoken directly to TVNZ management - and spoken on the record about TVNZ’s decisions. 

“There is a bit of a delicate dance which has to happen when media companies themselves are making these decisions. And media need to report on that. So I have some sympathy, but these aren't just individual employment issues. This is a public policy issue... about whether we have a functioning and vibrant Fourth Estate." 

"These are still shows that are very, very popular. Canceling them will reduce costs, but based on TVNZ’s own information that they've provided, it will reduce revenue by more."

Wood was until last year a minister in the Labour government which could have averted the TVNZ cuts. 

It spent more than $16m planning a new public media entity to replace TVNZ and RNZ with a not-for-profit public media entity - but then scrapped it weeks before it was due to begin. 

"(That is) one of the core things that we've got to deal with. TVNZ, in terms of its statutory form, is neither one thing nor the other. It has a commercial imperative and it also has some other obligations in terms of public good. News and current affairs should be at the heart of that - and that is something that we should be much clearer about."