7 Mar 2024

David Seymour denies overstepping with attack on TVNZ journalist

6:30 pm on 7 March 2024
ACT party leader David Seymour

David Seymour. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

ACT leader and TVNZ shareholding minister David Seymour denies he overstepped the mark when he publicly criticised a senior political journalist at the state television broadcaster.

Seymour told Newstalk ZB on Thursday morning that some in the media had a "delightful lack of self-awareness and immaturity".

His comments were in reference to live television analysis by a senior political journalist on the Prime Minister's decision to collect a $52,000 accommodation supplement for his Wellington apartment rather than living at Premier House.

"I mean I saw a report on 1News, Benedict Collins grinning down the camera about Chris Luxon's apartment costs," Seymour said.

"These are the people that cry, 'Oh you've got to give us sympathy, and you're inhumane and you should be kinder to us'."

"But they have spent years celebrating and dancing at every slip a politician makes, competing to get scalps as they call them, and all of a sudden they say, 'But oh when we have a bad day you've got to be kind to us'.

"I think it shows their delightful lack of self-awareness and immaturity."

Speaking to RNZ on Thursday evening, Seymour said he was simply making a "wider point that media need a bit of self-reflection".

"Immediately into my mind flashed a particularly self-indulgent piece of reporting I saw sometime last week. I think the total overreaction to my comments by media that they might need a bit less indulgence and a bit more self-reflection really just served to illustrate my point perfectly.

"The fact there's a restriction on a person in my position giving direction to TVNZ, I haven't done that by using one tiny piece of an article to make a wider political point that is very much being debated right now."

Seymour offered his own reflections that there was "far too much hysteria and not enough serious reporting going on".

Earlier on Thursday, Media and Communications Minister Melissa Lee said she would speak to Seymour about his comments.

He told RNZ he had not heard from his Cabinet colleague and "it wouldn't really be her job in any event, but of course I always listen to everyone and think about what they say, it's part of my job".

National Party MP Melissa Lee

Melissa Lee Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

If comments could not be made about the "quality of media generally", Seymour said, "I think we've really shut down any kind of debate".

When Lee was asked whether she would speak to Seymour, she initially told media he was responsible for his own comments.

She went on to say ministers and shareholding ministers, according to the TVNZ Act, should not interfere in the editorial independence of the entity, but in Seymour's case she was not clear what capacity he had made the comments in.

Lee told reporters Seymour, as a shareholding minister, should know what is and is not acceptable.

When a reporter replied that it appeared Seymour did not, Lee suggested: "Perhaps you [the media] might have reminded him".

Lee then clarified: "It's my responsibility as minister of broadcasting to have a conversation with him, so I will".


Seymour has previously weighed in on Cabinet ministers needing to be mindful of their responsibilities no matter what forum or context they're being made in.

When then-Cabinet minister Kiri Allan criticised RNZ's culture and treatment of Māori staff at a work farewell for her partner Māni Dunlop - the former host of Midday Report - Seymour told RNZ Allan should have remembered she is always on duty.

"There is a real problem when the people who hold the purse strings aren't absolutely critically cautious about even the perception of interfering with media," Seymour said. "Nobody loses their democracy all at once, it's always a thousand little chips and we don't want to see them. It's good she's apologised, but I can't believe she did it."

In response to whether Seymour could be seen to be interfering with TVNZ in light of his comments, he told RNZ that was a long bow to draw.

"I've used an example to illustrate a wider point," Seymour said. "The fact you're trying to draw that connection kind of just validates what I'm trying to say - total hysteria of a minor comment at a time when journalism needs a bit of self-reflection."

ACT Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden

Brooke van Velden. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

ACT deputy leader and Minister for Internal Affairs Brooke van Velden was also asked about her leader's comments on her way into Question Time. Van Velden described Seymour as "an honest man and honest politician".

"When he's been asked a direct question he's given a direct answer, and I think that should be welcomed and celebrated by the media - not criticised."

Van Velden denied Seymour had overstepped the mark, saying he had asked direct questions about "self-reflection of journalists".

"His obligations as a shareholding minister are not to give directions to TVNZ - he didn't do that. The media are not immune to criticism."

Asked by RNZ if she agreed with him that journalists need to do some "self-reflection", the deputy leader said, "she would encourage everybody to do it - it's good for emotional regulation".

TVNZ responds

TVNZ has responded to Seymour's comments and defended its journalist, asking MPs to "respect the independence" of the media.

"David Seymour has singled out 1News reporter Benedict Collins for doing his job - that is, challenging politicians and policies across the political spectrum on behalf of New Zealanders," a spokesperson said.

"We are not asking for sympathy, but are asking for our politicians to respect the independence of our media so they can get on with their work.

"We're a commercial company that's reliant on advertising revenue. We're not government-funded, and we haven't asked for funding."

Seymour's criticism comes at the same time TVNZ is facing a restructure with about 70 jobs set to be cut.

It is the second significant axing of journalists in a week, with Newshub's 300 staff called into an emergency meeting last Wednesday to be told the company's news operations were proposed to close on 30 June.

Lee told media at Parliament on Thursday that she received a 'no surprises' email from TVNZ on Wednesday night about the impending cuts at the state broadcaster.

"I have been trying to come to grips with this whole issue of Newshub's demise potentially after June 30, and TVNZ making an announcement this morning and trying to find out how we can actually help the industry."

Seymour also told Newstalk ZB that the media landscape had changed, but disagreed with the radio host that companies like Newshub and TVNZ only had themselves to blame.

"That's not quite true," Seymour responded.

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