17 Jan 2012

NZOA accused of political bias over poverty show

7:33 pm on 17 January 2012

Broadcasting funding agency New Zealand On Air is blaming TV3 schedulers after it was accused of political bias over a documentary about child poverty it paid for.

The agency is seeking legal advice about whether it should censor television programmes during election campaigns.

NZ On Air says it has been accused of political bias following TV3's screening of Inside Child Poverty: A Special Report four days ahead of the general election on 26 November last year.

In documents released under the Official Information Act, NZ On Air says it was not happy with TV3's decision to screen the documentary on 22 November.

It says it takes its political impartiality very seriously and now stands accused of political bias.

NZ On Air chairperson Neil Walter told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Tuesday it only found out a few days before the programme was screened that it would be broadcast so close to polling day.

"We are barred by legislation from seeking to influence editorial content of the programmes we fund.

"We're very conscious and very respectful of the freedom of expression provisions of the Bill of Rights, but in this case we felt that we've been dropped in it by the decision to put that particular programme on just days out from voting."

Mr Walter says child poverty became a popular election issue only after it had funded the documentary.

The minutes of the NZ On Air board's meeting in December says it is now considering adding a clause to the broadcast covenant requiring broadcasters not to screen programmes likely to be an election issue during the election period.

TV3 declined to comment on Tuesday.