29 Mar 2012

MPs grill NZ on Air about board member's funding decisions

5:49 pm on 29 March 2012

New Zealand on Air has been grilled by Labour Party MPs about the involvement of board member Stephen McElrea on documentary funding decisions, given his political affiliations.

The broadcasting funding agency appeared before Parliament's commerce committee on Thursday.

Mr McElrea - who is also the prime minister's electorate chairman - questioned NZ on Air's chair and chief executive about the timing of a documentary on child poverty four days before the election after a member of the public complained to the Electoral Commission.

The complaint was not upheld.

The committee was told Mr McElrea had nothing to do with the funding decision for the programme, but that he had raised a question about it with chief executive Jane Wrightson before it screened.

Labour MPs asked repeated questions of the acting chair, Nicole Hoey and Ms Wrightson, amid interjections from National MPs.

Spokesperson for communications Clare Curran asked:

"Do you believe that by raising that issue with the chief executive as well as the chairman that Mr McElrea had an actual conflict of interest?"

Ms Wrightson replied: "I think it's basic governance that a director can ask a question at any time and that's what happened."

The chair of the committee, National's Todd McClay, asked Ms Wrightson if she believed that Mr McElrea acted professionally in his role as a board member.

Ms Wrightson replied that he had to the best of her knowledge.

MPs were told Mr McElrea had not declared a conflict of interest when he was involved in a decision about a documentary on the rollout of the Whanau Ora policy, which is a government policy.

But Ms Wrightson said that late last year he did declare a conflict of interest about an as yet un-named subject.