17 Mar 2009

TVNZ to cut 90 staff

11:21 am on 17 March 2009

Television New Zealand plans to make about 90 staff redundant, in a bid to shave $25 million from its budget.

Broadcasting Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman told Checkpoint that while it is a sad day for TVNZ, economic conditions have forced a decision that was inevitable in the future.

He defended the Government's decision to accept a dividend, saying it could not single out TVNZ for special treatment.

The Public Service Association says the government could help relieve the broadcaster's financial situation by not insisting that it return the dividend.

However, TVNZ chief executive Rick Ellis says that would not save the jobs, since a dividend is paid from net profit after tax and therefore has no impact on the operating cost of a business.

Mr Ellis says the proposed job losses would make up about a quarter of the budget savings, with the rest coming from cuts to programming and departments' operating budgets.

He says the redundancies will affect areas across the business, including technology, sports, marketing, news and current affairs.

Staff meetings were taking place at TVNZ on Tuesday so managers can tell employees more about the plans.

TVNZ says 17 news and current affairs staff are among those facing the prospect of redundancy - eleven journalists or producers and with six technical support staff. Most are based in Auckland.

There will also be a salary freeze for the chief executive, executive team and senior managers.

Mr Ellis says the outlook for media that are reliant on advertising is uncertain around the world, so TVNZ will be fast-tracking its move to become a digital media company with diverse income streams.

Independent producers fear job losses

Cuts to programming budgets will result in the loss of about 100 hours, or approximately 3%, of local content.

Independent television production companies say the budget cuts will mean less work for independent contractors and lead to job losses.

Screen Production and Development Association chief executive Penelope Borland says levels of local content in New Zealand are already much lower than in other countries.

She says because different types of programmes are funded in different ways, more detail about the cuts is needed before the full extent of job losses will be known.

'Mixed messages' on jobs

Opposition parties say the Government is sending mixed messages to employers about preventing job cuts.

The Green Party says it is extraordinary the Government will not help its own business, when it indicated last month it might consider supporting private companies like Fisher & Paykel Appliances.

The Labour Party says the Government is interested only in stripping TVNZ so it will be ready for sale in a few years.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary Andrew Little said workers at the broadcaster had offered to work reduced hours but the suggestion was rejected.

Mr Little said the decision to axe staff rather than consider alternatives is disappointing.