Shame on Shane Taurima for telling his boss he wasn’t running for Labour again, and shame on his boss for believing him when everyone else – including people in his own newsroom – took it for granted he was. Double shame on TVNZ executives to use this as an excuse to run a purge they had planned from the outset – a purge of the left from the newsroom and the organisation. A purification which will leave only the fair-minded, right-thinking New Zealanders to report the news on TVNZ, and anyone on the left of politics looking for a new job elsewhere.
If the action of Taurima and his converts was ill considered and compromised trust and ethics then the reaction of the executive class has been equally ill considered and an effrontery to match his sins and then some. Of course it was bad: they were literally having Labour Party hui in his office it was that overt. He resumed his candidacy bid for Labour within days, if not seconds, of being defeated for the TaiRawhiti by-election selection last year. Him and his crew were barely trying to cover it, and only as an after-thought. If it could be classified as a ‘secret’ in any sense it was an open secret. It had tacit consent at the executive level – that is what was presumed by the political observers and the punditry at the time, if not by Taurima himself.
Yet because of this incompetent oversight and management by Taurima’s superiors the news staff are now going to be made to pay for it with their freedom of association and their right to join a political party along with the right to hold these things private.
To add to the sense of executive grievance and paranoia that whole departments had become a seething red hotbed of Bolshevik revolution TVNZ’s last corporate annual report features none other than Labour Rotorua nominee Tamati Coffey on the cover (from NZ’s Got Talent). You can’t buy that publicity – being on the network’s top-rating show – how fortunate for him. That’s why they put him on the cover, he’s a poster boy. By the time Taurima cast his hat in the ring, again, the top floor had had a gutsful of being used as a staging post to parliament.
In the same position as Taurima sits Julian Wilcox over at the Maori Television Service as head of their news and current affairs division. That was clarified in the last 24 hours. Given Taurima fell over so spectacularly, the eyes swivelled to Wilcox who has told MTS he won’t be running. Won’t be running this time around that is to say. That’s the perception problem underscored rather than resolved. He’s been flushed out, yet he remains on board.
We have to forget he’s with Labour, like how we are supposed to forget that Shane Taurima was Labour, that Paul Henry stood for National (and lost to a transgender Labour candidate). We have to suspend our judgement and treat them as neutral? Everyone can see the difficulty juggling roles on either side of politics and the media – and I haven’t even mentioned Linda Clark yet. She wears so many hats she could start a millinery. She really deserves her own column.
The line over which political activity should be declared or may be contentious is where it crosses into public engagement and office-holding (where there is direct relationships and
expectations with politicians and party leaders) – but mere party membership or modest donations cannot of themselves be held to cross that line as far as I am concerned.
After former NZ Herald editor Gavin Ellis’ condemnation on RNZ of news staff joining political parties his old paper ran an editorial that could have been written by Elllis, declaring any degree of political activism anathema to journalism. As with TVNZ only fair-minded, right-
thinking New Zealanders are to report the news at the NZ Herald. The comments to the editorial, fortunately were almost all hostile and scathing of the Herald’s hypocrisy, with the most sycophantic pro-Tory cheerleaders – (in no particular order) Audrey Young, John Armstrong and Fran O’Sullivan – being identified as the most egregiously biased. If the Herald is practising political neutrality then Der Sturmer was what – slightly right-of-centre?
Wilcox by contrast has played a cool hand throughout, unlike Taurima with a failed selection battle under his belt. Wilcox has done nothing under a party guise at this point to draw attention to Labour partisanship. Which is helpful when the chair of your TV channel happens to be a National ex-Minister who has just appointed a new CEO. He has to play this supercool. So far he has.
TVNZ ultimately have only their own executive management to blame. The conduct of their desired witch-hunt is McCarthyist extremism, having an origin that will be traced to a panel of Pakeha appointed to review the content of the Maori and Pacific department.
Assessing one person’s political bias in interviewing without the context or benchmarking of having assessed other presenters and the bias of their content is a problematic exercise. It is made even worse when snorting right-wing hacks like Mike Hosking (and Paul Holmes before him) get to launch into full tirades of ideological, race, class and gender bigotry and yet the ruler is never run over them. No big drama when Hosking was caught out taking back-handers from Sky City was there? No such reviews and purges. Big brush, straight under the carpet, business as usual. A quiet word, nothing to see here. They pick and choose when they start caring – like Tony Veitch’s partner-bashing incident which was initially swept under the carpet before being exposed.
TVNZ don’t have a wonderful track record. Considering Taurima’s execution panel featured Bill Francis, who as guru of the ZB talk-hate radio formula let Paul Holmes off for infamously using a racist epithet about an African UN Secretary-General, then TVNZ got exactly what they paid for: a report for fair-minded, right-
thinking New Zealanders.