"NZ On Air Independence Under Threat Over TV3 Child Poverty Doco": Raw Documents
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Previously on Scoop Tom Frewen revealed the funding agency New Zealand on Air was considering changing its rules to prevent publically-funded political content screening during election campaigns, following alarm from the board at TV3's decision to schedule the documentary Inside Child Poverty days before the 2011 general election.
The documents below were released by NZ on Air under the Official Information Act (scanned in PDF format, email addresses have been redacted by Scoop).
17/11/11: NZ on Air Chief Executive Jane Wrightson, seeking information following board member (also John Key’s electorate chairman and the National Party’s northern region deputy chairman) Stephen McElrea's message (to Wrightson and NZOA Chairman Neil Walter) point out Inside Child Poverty scheduling.
McElrea: "Was NZOA aware that this doco was to be scheduled 4 days before the election? If not, should we have been? To me, it falls into the area of caution we show about political satire near elections."
18/11/11: Neil Walter to NZOA board, on sending the Minister a "heads-up" and registering "strong disappointment" with TV3 (the following two documents attached).
"Time will tell how badly we have been dropped in it."
18/11/11: Wrightson letter to Sussan Turner, Managing Director of TV3 owner MediaWorks.
"While we do not interfere in editorial content, and do not involve ourselves in your scheduling decisions, we want to make clear the extent of our discomfort and disappointment with the scheduling of the programme at this time."
"We consider that we have been dropped in it on this occasion."
Wrightson notes initial opinion "mainly – and pleasingly – focused on the issue itself", then notes TV3 report of an electoral commission complaint; McElrea sends link to Karl du Fresne's blog post; Wrightson concludes the debate "mainly focused a little more on what the political response should be rather than party-specific. And thus far, no serious criticism of NZ on Air thankfully".
"Our only issue was the scheduling in Election week... We guard our reputation jealously... and we think the scheduling did threaten this. We couldn't ask TV3 to change the schedule, recognising it's their decision not ours, but we did make our disappointment about the scheduling and its potential impact on us known."
"... I categorically reject the suggestion that New Zealand on Air was in any way involved in the broadcaster's decision to screen the programme at this time...
"On the scheduling of the programme just days out from a general election (when the topic had indeed become an election issue), I fully share your concern...
"This is the first time that NZ on Air has been let down by a broadcaster in this way... TV3 has expressed its regret for having put us in this situation and has assured us that there will be no repeat of the problem. We are nevertheless investigating options to strengthen our broadcast covenants against the recurrence of such an incident."
15/12/11: Wrightson to Walter, McElrea summarising interview with Herald reporter John Drinnan on "reputed tensions" between NZOA and TV3, and political neutrality – with Drinnan specifically asking about Stephen McEltrea (Drinnan's column appeared the next day).
"I said our displeasure re the scheduling was a whole-of-Board view, also shared by me, that all members were appointed by the Minister of the day, and that as a crown entity we are completely neutral."
"Although we were not party to the scheduling decision, we now stand accused of political bias...
"The Board has asked me to explore with you ways in which we could avoid a repetition of this situation, based on some form of understanding that due account will in future be taken of our concern not to be pulled into the political arena in this way. One suggestion is that any proposal to screen a politically sensitive programme immediately before a general or by-election first be discussed with NZ on Air. The period concerned is probably best defined as between the issue of writs and the day of voting.
"We should be grateful for your comments on this proposal."