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Marc My Words: TVNZ Makes Astrology Look Good

Marc My Words

By Marc Alexander

TVNZ management makes Astrology look good

Consultation is what happens when you talk through your problems with your employer. Gossip, recrimination and endless public finger-pointing is what happens when your employment is funded by the taxpayer and your employer is TVNZ.

In diluting the "substance" (and I use the term loosely) of their product, TVNZ has not been well served by its masters. That’s why salary disputes have been dragged into the court of public opinion rather than dealt with quietly by the Board. TVNZ is a Crown entity but it is we, the public, who are the financial shareholders. We don't make the decisions , we just pay for them.

Was Judy Bailey worth $800,000? Should her clothes have been auctioned off? Should anyone other than Judy care about either? And what about Susan Wood? Was it fair for TVNZ to try to "prune" a $100,000 off her salary?

These are not the real questions we should really be asking. More importantly, should we have a taxpayer funded television broadcaster at all? TVNZ competes on an equal footing for the mighty advertising dollar along with everyone else. Why then the special protection provided by our tax money? Isn't that an unfair competative advantage against Prime, SKY, and TV3?

While many commentators, (especially those in the media sharpening their claws in a frenzy of economic jealousy), have sniggered and smirked their way to self-justification about their comparatively meagre incomes, the real point has been lost. While most sensible people would regard a salary of $800,000 to be ridiculously excessive for reading an cue-card or teleprompter, it wasn't Judy Bailey who should have been embarrassed but those idiots who made the decision on our behalf.

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The problem is that those same buffoons, who if they were in a private enterprise would be answerable to the shareholders; they don't seem to be answerable at all because the taxpayers of this country are the shareholders. Unfortunately we don't have the luxury of attending a shareholders meeting and demanding that heads must roll. Top of the list of course is the head of the Broadcasting, the Minister who, as usual, is incapable of doing much about it.

Case in point: it was only last December that the Government refused to accept the offers of resignation of three TVNZ directors over the Judy Bailey pay rise affair! Incredibly they refused accountability! The recent calls of an inquiry by National's Katherine Rich will force the government to go through the motions and buy time to come up with a strategy to bury the findings unless the terms of reference are wide enough, to question not only the Board's competence and the impact of the Charter, but also how to cut the umbilical cord of the public purse. It is pertinent to point out here that Labour could not prevent National from seeking the inquiry given the support they had from the other parties in the finance and expenditure select committee. It will therefore become an ongoing credibility problem for Labour which National will deftly exploit.

The TVNZ blunders have a long history. Remember the furore surrounding the loss of Paul Holmes to Prime and the very public displays of spitefulness and acrimony? What about the outrageous payout to silence John Hawkesby? Then we saw Richard back (but not for long), with an increased pay packet to assuage his grief at being pushed aside during that debacle.

These people do not seem capable of learning from experience so now we have similar problems with the Susan Wood saga. These would not concern us if we were not the ones obliged to pay the bill when they determine a particular salary. The problem in comparing the relative value of one job with another is better left to the market to decide. Let consumers vote freely with their wallets rather than having the costs shoved on us by those who know the least!

The inept decision-makers at TVNZ may claim that their negotiated salary packages are commercial decisions, but the simple fact is TVNZ is not a commercial business. TVNZ is a government-sponsored enterprise. The shenanigans at TVNZ have clearly demonstrated that governments should not be involved in running commercial businesses. This is especially so when the public is exposed to the economic risks of such decisions without any choice in the matter. There seems to be about as much interest in accountability as bald men have with their combs.

After all the problems with salaries, golden handshakes, and bad business decisions, you would think that government would redouble its efforts to get things right. Wrong! In the last week two other examples have emerged: Lackadaisical management at Housing NZ has revealed that thousands of tenants who owe cumulatively nearly $2 million in rent arrears (increased by a whopping 56% in the last four years) are continuing to live in those tax payer subsidised properties with scant regard for the consequence.

Similarly, CYF chief executive, Canadian import Paula Ryan, has decided to quit her job after less than eighteen months. But here's the rub…her state sector contract did not provide for the repayment of relocation costs in the event of her not completing the full term. Taxpayers have been slugged nearly $70,000 for very little value. If TVNZ wants to claim its decision-making is ‘competitive’ (including the salary bands it feels it must offer), then let TVNZ really become competitive.

Last year the Government gave TVNZ $14 million dollars to compete with TV3, Prime and SKY. So much for the free market and competition! Why can't TVNZ be expected to earn its own keep?

These debacles prove that there is nothing easier than spending someone else’s money. As TVNZ is just another government agency, could anyone have been surprised? I have one suggestion to put it all to good use: TVNZ could turn their management problems into a reality show.

On second thoughts it probably would not rate: no-one would find it believeable!

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