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TVNZ Political Gets Partial Amendment

TVNZ Political Gets Partial Amendment

Last night, United Future blocked a significant ACT amendment to the TVNZ Bill. Supported by the Greens, it would have passed - had United Future not knuckled to Minister Steve Maharey at the last minute, ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks said today.

"The amendment required shareholding Ministers to protect and uphold TVNZ's political neutrality and impartiality. United said they liked the principle. They helped ACT and the Greens force the Government to accept a partial fix to another clause, but didn't follow through when given a chance to put the main principle into the Bill," Mr Franks said.

"It is extraordinary for any Opposition amendment to be successful on a Government Bill. I just wish it had been the stronger one that got through.

"The TVNZ Bill takes TVNZ out of the anti-interference protections of the State Owned Enterprises Act. During the Committee Stages, last night, I realised nothing in the new Bill required TVNZ to be politically impartial and neutral. Labour Ministers have a free hand in appointing the board, and can still remove directors at will. There's nothing stopping them forcing the board to sack journalists they don't like, or to can whole reporting teams like Assignment.

"There was a feeble provision in the Bill to stop shareholding Ministers from direct interference in particular programmes. But it cunningly said nothing about directions given under other law, for example shareholders using company law powers to pass resolutions controlling the company.

"The Government was embarrassed into supporting ACT's removal of that limitation on blatant interference, so that it wasn't confined only to powers under the new TVNZ Act. United Future apparently told the Mr Maharey they could not stomach voting for the clause as it stood when it was so obviously evadable.

"But, then, they accepted the Government's bizarre excuse for opposing the main amendment - that requiring Ministers to protect and uphold political neutrality and impartiality could "mean too much interference".

"The new PC TVNZ charter, and the removal of SOE transparency requirements to disclose government instructions, and requests to do things not in the interests of TVNZ, make this Bill a black omen for effective free speech in New Zealand," Mr Franks said.

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