Scoop IV: Key Defends 'Staying At Home' Fraser
Scoop IV: John Key Defends 'Staying At Home' Fraser
By Kevin List
Today news broke that former TVNZ Chief Executive Ian Fraser would not be representing TVNZ at a Commonwealth Broadcasters conference being held in Delhi, India, this month. According to the NZ Herald Mr Fraser considers he has been penalised by TVNZ for speaking his mind in front of Parliament's Finance and Expenditure committee last year.
While Mr Fraser will not be jetting around the world on a TVNZ credit card Scoop understands Mr Fraser would still be able to utilise his office for phone calls and the coffee making facilities of TVNZ headquarters.
Mr Fraser was asked by the Select Committee to give evidence at an Inquiry into TVNZ in early December following his resignation from TVNZ citing political interference. During his evidence Mr Fraser implied that a board member had been actively involved in undermining his position.
"From the time of the appointment of John Goulter to the board in the middle of the year - I kept bumping into stories in the news media that had clearly been ceded to them to the effect that management weren't competent and that the skids were under us unless news ratings were turned around," Mr Fraser told the MPs.
Later Mr Fraser pointed out that he had no evidence that Mr Goulter had been guilty of any wrongdoing whatsoever. Mr Goulter released a statement following Mr Fraser's evidence stating there was not a shred of truth in Mr Fraser's allegations.
National's Finance spokesperson John Key was listening intently while Mr Fraser gave his evidence at the TVNZ inquiry and considers it "outrageous" that Mr Fraser has allegedly been penalised for giving evidence.
"I will be writing to the Clerk of the House, Dave McGee, to ask for a ruling on this. This behaviour by the board directly challenges the governance responsibility Parliament has for Government activities and will make a mockery of any future parliamentary inquiry," said Mr Key in a statement.
Scoop caught up with Mr Key this morning as he shuttled between TVNZ and TV3 giving reporters the benefit of his outrage. Broadcasting Minister Steve Maharey and TVNZ have so far stayed silent on the latest TVNZ drama.
Scoop: Is it absolutely certain that Ian Fraser has been booted out of TVNZ for the comments he made to the Finance and Expenditure committee?
John Key: Well, apparently the comments made in the paper this morning [are] that Ian Fraser has been punished for the statements he made to the Select Committee. Now, not only did the committee write and ask him to come, but if he didn't come I'd have written to the speaker and had him subpoenaed. So, he had no choice to come, and once he was before the committee he had no choice but to give honest and free and frank answers.
Scoop: I'm just wondering whether TVNZ has put out a statement saying 'Mr Fraser has been disciplined because of his comments at the TVNZ Inquiry'?
John Key: Well certainly it is reported in the Herald today and TVNZ ran the story on their channel, so I'm pretty sure.
Scoop: Did you find Mr Fraser's testimony believable?
John Key: Yes, I did, but the real issue here is simply it is not for me to judge that. What this is about is a process. The process is that Parliament is in effect the highest court in the land and carries out inquiries from time to time, in which government and quasi-government employees come and testify. What this is doing is setting a precedent that says any government or quasi-government employee that appears before a future select committee is subject to punishment and that's a tremendously dangerous precedent.
Scoop: Right, well he hasn't actually been fired because he's already resigned. He has been asked not to [carry out certain duties]. Do you think Ian Fraser is bad for morale at TVNZ?
John Key: The issue isn't about Ian Fraser. The issue here is about the actions the board has taken in punishing Ian Fraser. The board of TVNZ has punished an employee of TVNZ for appearing before a Select Committee and giving evidence in the way that he sees it? [The board] don't agree with the statements he gave but he was entitled to say that. He can't mislead the committee because he can't mislead Parliament. He must be allowed to give free and frank opinion.
Scoop: Can I just pick you up on that because I can't see from any of the news reports that TVNZ states this was the case. Has anyone found out who leaked - the memo written by Ian Fraser – to Sue Kedgley ?
John Key: There were a lot of copies of that floating around.
Scoop: There were a lot of copies of a memo written by Ian Fraser to the TVNZ board floating around!?
John Key: I got one and it didn't come from Ian Fraser.
Scoop: I'm not saying it did come from Ian Fraser. I'm wondering whether the person that leaked the memo to Sue Kedgley has been found?
John Key: Well I know where I got mine from and it wasn't Ian Fraser.
Scoop: Ian Fraser was alleging political interference with regard to Judy Bailey's contract. Do you find that credible?
John Key: I think it is well acknowledged that one of the board members breached board protocol and confidence by going outside the board and giving that information to Steve Maharey the shareholding Minister.
Scoop: Sorry, by political interference I was meaning the way that Mr Fraser was worrying that the news would be compromised if salaries over $300,000 had to go before the board for approval? That is what Ian Fraser was referring to as political interference. Do you find that political interference?
John Key: Well I think one of the challenges for TVNZ when it is operating in both a commercial environment and having public sector responsibilities…I think transparency in salaries and compensation is fairly common practice and we would actually support that transparency in quasi government activity.
The issue isn't about whether I agree with Ian Fraser - it's about what [Mr Fraser's treatment] does to Parliament's future ability to conduct an inquiry. I think parliamentarians of all stripes should be very worried about this. If we can't do our job and we can't have government oversight then New Zealand is in a much poorer position.