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Question of Privilege on the Action taken by TVNZ

Question of Privilege on the Action taken by TVNZ in relation to its Chief Executive, following evidence - Finance and Expenditure Committee; Thursday 19 October 2006

Hone Harawira, Broadcasting Spokesperson; Maori Party

What a week this has been: Standing Order 399 - "obstructing or impeding the House in the performance of its functions". How ironic it is that the day after government rushes through legislation to validate their unlawful expenditure, we get to sit in judgement on the improper conduct of others.

Mr Speaker, it was interesting to receive, as a member of the Privileges Committee, evidence from the Clerk of the House, the Executive Director of Crown Company Monitoring and Advisory Unit, and the State Services Commissioner, about the relationships and obligations of Crown entities and State enterprises to Parliament.

Interesting Mr Speaker, because our mania for rules and regulations, matches very much the scenario we had at TVNZ, with the CEO saying one thing, his bosses saying another, and then the Privileges Committee coming along and smacking the bosses on the hand.

Look at the Auditor General as the CEO, the government as the bosses, and parliament as the Privileges Committee. The only difference of course is that government rammed through a law to justify their wrongdoing, regardless of the outcry from parliament and the public.

Transparency of Information
Mr Speaker, it was also clear throughout the committee stages, that whatever book you turn to - the Cabinet Manual, the SSC Guidelines, the TV Guide - there isn't much help for people asked to come before select committee.

And when we finally saw the papers that SOE directors gets, it soon became clear that directors responsibilities and obligations to the Crown were very hard to understand. In fact, it all looked as clear as the pollution at the bottom of the lakes that government recently gave back to Te Arawa.

And understanding responsibilities and obligations is critical, because if there's one thing we should have learned over the last couple of days, it's that once the rules are agreed upon, then it's the referee, the Auditor-General, who blows full-time - not one of the players. It's about playing by the rules.

So Mr Speaker, the Maori Party is happy to support any suggestion to improve the rules for people appearing before select committee, and we offer this saying as a token of our assistance

Ehara i te mea, he kotahi tangata näna i whakaara te po
It's not about only one person being awake to danger
Because as we strive in vain to restore public confidence in this den of iniquity, we must ensure that we are prepared to step up to the plate of adherence to the law, and accepting of the view that the referee's decision is final.

Question of Privilege and Protection of Witnesses
The basis of much of the committee's discussions was the notion of parliamentary privilege - an idea which derives from the Legislature Act of 1908 and the 1865 rulings in the British House of Commons, which themselves were the descendants of Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1688.

More relevant though is not so much privilege, but the rights that this government is denying Maori, right now, in the greatest parliament of the world - the United Nations - where discussions are taking place on the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People; where this Labour Government is actively opposing those rights; where this government is doing it's best to destroy a text that has been cobbled together by indigenous people from all over the world, for the last 25 years.

And what exactly does this Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People say? Does it speak of terrorism? Does it speak of death? Does it speak of the denial of anyone's rights? Hell No !!!

It says this - "indigenous peoples have the right to the full enjoyment, as a collective or as individuals, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms" - and it says this "The Declaration shall be interpreted in accordance with the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, equality, non-discrimination, good governance and good faith".

Here we are talking about privilege, and this government can't even accept indigenous rights.
A question of Balance
Mr Speaker, the issue of contempt, the debate about the rightness or otherwise of conflicting statements from TVNZ's bosses, is tied up in the dilemma that government has foisted upon TVNZ by demanding they live up to public charter requirements, as well as make a bucket load of money.

Should TVNZ focus on providing high-quality, public-good programming, or say damn-them-all let's make money?
How does TVNZ deliver on its social imperatives if the only quantifiable measure is the bank balance?
Mr Speaker, it seems to me that much of the conflict in TVNZ reflects the dominance of the commercial brigade over the keepers of the flame.

It's a tension I know well, for I come to this House from the world of Maori radio, a world hampered by limited funding, and a world where my trustees were constantly challenging me to get advertising on board, to increase our commercial profile, and to become a player in the world of commercial radio.

I resisted that of course, because I am a kaupapa man at heart, a man for whom Maori principles mean more than money, but I pondered at length how best to resolve the dilemma between commercialism and kaupapa.

And our answer? Simple. We started another station to "touch gently those who are not used to Maori language", and to respond to commercial imperatives, and by splitting our focus we were able to be successful in both worlds.

The worry of course is that TVNZ already has that option - TV1 and TV2.
Maori Programming
So what's the problem? Well, that's simple too actually. Although TVNZ has a charter and a commercial focus, public service programming is still treated with disdain.

Te Karere, TVNZs daily window on the Maori world, the so-called Maori News, is still sitting out in the kids programming slot of 4.35pm. I stopped watching it when they kept shunting it around to catch the cricket, and it's been such a while that I've seen it, I had to check the TV Guide to see what time it was on. Sad ...

TVNZ's 2006 Report said that TVNZ was working to "expand their range and depth of programmes that reflect Maori language and culture to all New Zealanders", and then later in the report, noted that they were doing less for Maori programming in 2006, than they did in 2005.

I hear a rumour that TVNZ may have to compete for the Maori funding they've had guaranteed to them for the last few years, so the big question is whether they will pay out of their own pocket to "expand their range and depth of programmes that reflect Maori language and culture to all New Zealanders", or whether as the Maori would say "all talk - no walk!!"

These are critical issues for TVNZ, and they need to get pro-active right now, or they're going to get run over by that award-winning station, Maori Television.

Maori Radio Rides into the Rescue
And, Mr Speaker, if I might be so bold, might I suggest to TVNZ that if they want someone who knows how to deal with commercial and charter responsibilities, they could do far worse than look to Maori Radio for a saviour.

As anyone in the industry knows, Maori radio hasn't had an increase in operational funding since 1990 (150 years after the Treaty was signed), and since then, managers have had to maintain faith with their Kaupapa Maori, while trying to backstop their meagre funding with commercial activity.

The ability of Maori Radio managers to survive and flourish in a world of limited funding, shows the entrepreneurial flair, the lateral thinking, and the willingness to live outside the box, that TVNZ could do with a dose of right now.

The return to New Zealand society from Maori Radio has been huge. When I first started in 1990, the only music I could get was Howard Morrison and the Hi-Fives.

It was Maori Radio, and now it is also Maori TV , that provides the opportunity for all of us in this House to enjoy Bob Marley in Maori, and Katchafire whenever we can; and it was Maori Radio that gave life to the Foreshore and Seabed Hikoi for the tens of thousands who couldn't make it to Wellington, and wall-to-wall coverage of the nations premier Kapahaka and Maori Speech festivals.

In searching for a way forward, TVNZ could not in fact do better, than look to Maori Radio for a leader.
The Committee also took a lash at the inexcusable ignorance of some rather well-paid corporate high flyers who were supposed to be providing the Board with good advice, but I would recommend the Committee save some of its sting for this House, for it is government itself that has not properly addressed, in its own mind, the correct balance between commercialism and kaupapa, and it is that greyness that has created the competing environment and the conflict in cultures, that burnt TVNZ.

Can TVNZ be an effective channel for the visions and aspirations of all New Zealanders, or has that crown already been taken by Maori Television?

And is TVNZ still a genuine player in commercial television, or simply a free-to-air option for SKY TV.
All things are possible for TVNZ. What is desperately needed now though, is clarity of vision, and a commitment to excellence.

ends

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