6 Mar 2014

Staff may have to declare allegiances

6:34 pm on 6 March 2014

The head of Television New Zealand says it may have to consider asking staff to declare any formal political allegiances.

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick.

TVNZ chief executive Kevin Kenrick. Photo: RNZ

Chief executive Kevin Kenrick was questioned by a parliamentary select committee on Thursday over revelations TVNZ staff used its offices and resources to host and organise Labour Party meetings.

An investigation is underway into what happened and whether there had been any bias in news produced by TVNZ's Maori and Pacific Unit, and on Q + A programmes hosted by the unit's former general manager, Shane Taurima, who resigned in February this year.

Mr Kenrick said staff already have to declare any possible conflicts of interest, but after the hearing told reporters that rule may have to be expanded to cover participation in political parties, particularly where news staff are concerned.

"We're not in the business of censoring people or trying to dictate what they're political preferences are. But what we need to have, I think, is more robust declaration and awareness of that. And then we probably will need to look at how we can manage the situation where we are aware of that."

Shane Taurima.

Shane Taurima. Photo: SUPPLIED

Prime Minister John Key says that would be an unusual step because, as far as he is aware, journalists in other organisations have no such requirements.

"I mean, we live in a small country in New Zealand, people have private lives and have professional lives. I, for the most part, trust the journalists I deal with to be professional in what they do. My experience actually of Television New Zealand is that they're not biased."

Kevin Kenrick told the select committee TVNZ's management was "gutted" by revelations about its news staff and the Labour Party.

Mr Kenrick said the company had kept Mr Taurima on after he sought candidacy for Labour in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti by-election and was surprised and disappointed by the revelations.

"The outcome is not one that was planned or designed and we're absolutely gutted that it's occurred. Our understanding is that this is an isolated individual, and potentially a small group of individuals, and we want to be absolutely sure that that's the case."

On his way into the select committee, Mr Kenrick acknowledged that he could not say there was no bias until the investigation is complete.