Feb 18, 2014

Shane Taurima: political neophyte?

Patrick Gower has thrown a rat among the kiwi eggs:

3 News can reveal state broadcaster TVNZ is being used as a campaign base by Labour Party activists. 
They've even held a meeting in TVNZ's Maori and Pacific Unit aimed at fundraising for Labour. 
The unit's manager, Shane Taurima, has held ambitions to become a Labour MP and his staff have been arranging Labour Party business, using TVNZ facilities like email.
Mr Taurima has resigned following the revelation.

How did several experienced journalists miss the headlines they were creating? The use of TVNZ facilities was minor, but it should have created doubts. The stench of a story should have suffocated every journalist in the meeting room.

I stand by the claim that the use was relatively minor. But the political ineptitude isn’t. There’s a story on two levels: principled and practical. Is it ethical to remain party political while maintaining editorial control at a public broadcaster? On a practical level, does the issue speak to poor political judgement?

I think Shane checked his views at the door. His work confirms that. But perceptions demanded he resign. How could he remain objective?

Well, he remained balanced. Objectivity was a red herring. Journalism demands balance. The myth of objectivity was only a self-serving political attack. Shane didn’t sacrifice his professional skills or values. But the perception that he was tainted – a perception that’s given substance in the latest story – ran too deep.

Shane didn’t make the rod for his own back in front of the camera or in the control room - he made it in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti selection. When he revealed his political ambitions – and social democratic inclinations – he drew a target on his head. In hindsight he should have resigned permanently the moment he announced his candidacy. On a practical level he could have and did remain – I don’t think anyone can question his professionalism – but on a political level the decision to remain was stupid. Does this cast doubt on his suitability as a political candidate?

Post script: Shane has released a gracious media statement explaining his resignation. 


  1. Shane is a good guy. He is a strong advocate of Maori development. Every one has political views and leanings. But to be the editor of Maori news (editor still means the right to say no to stories and to change the focus or angle) in the publicly funded system, to be actively pursuing a candidacy, and to be holding meetings and using the workplaces systems for one party is not right. This saddens me because it shows to me poor judgment, and perhaps Shane's age and, inspite of his skills, his inexperience. Where were the TVNZ management team and their leadership? He will go on to do good things because he is a talent. But it is sad for him and his whanau.

  2. @ ATA Tibble - ditto.

    Whilst Shane's decision to allegedly hold the meeting at TVNZ would have been unwise (to put it mildly) - the other issue is the baying hounds of National MPs (Henare, Collins, et al) who are screaming "bias".

    They forget that one of their own; sitting amidst them; is also guilty of potential bias, having moved from a high profile media job to the National party.

    Ladies and gentlemen; Maggie Barry.

  3. I disagree that the use of TVNZ facilities was minor. I actually think the story (obviously intentional) overstates the ‘bias’ issue while understating the potential breach of an employment contract.

    I get that the ‘perception of bias’ is a big deal, and I agree with your comments about ‘bias being a red herring’. The ‘perception of bias’ is obviously a tempting angle to take, especially since mediaworks can take the opportunity to promote their own ‘perceived impartiality’.

    My point is, for any state sector employee, political neutrality and use of workplace facilities is probably a breach of the employment contract. I recall on my induction to Ministry of Justice being told using the internet to check personal emails during worktime – pretty minor, breached the code of conduct and warranted a formal warning. Allowing unauthorised persons to enter the building (entry was by personal security cards) was very serious and lead to instant dismissal.

    I think depending on the terms of his contract, Taurima potentially breached a number of those conditions – using facilities, allowing unauthorised(?) persons and political partisanship, and that, in my view is the real issue here.

    I also think the actions of privately owned media companies and state owned media companies are incomparable for 2 reasons:
    1) Privately owned media companies are private so the business can set its own rules around use of facilities; and
    2) Because they are privately owned, there is no legal requirement for political neutrality. Surely that comes down to the journalist not the business.

    (Noting that I'm not familiar with media law, so my argument might be completely fallacious)

    Additionally, bringing the Maori & Pacific programming unit into disrepute through the ‘perception of bias’ wasn’t probably enough to sack him, since an investigation would probably not find evidence of any actual bias (although I am speculating, I don’t have all the fact!) and the principles of justice require a fair hearing etc, but if he breached his employment contract (as I suspect) he had no other option but to resign. In my opinion, any investigation carried by TVNZ will only be necessary to placate the public to illustrate TVNZ’s ‘commitment to political neutrality’. Justice needs to be seen to be done.

  4. I worked at TVNZ for over 10 years. The Maori dept is unique. It's culture of manaakitanga and awhiawhi permeates through the place. It's not uncommon for the dept to host all manner of events involving all kinds of groups outside TVNZ. I think the role Mr Taurima's colleagues played in this matter genuinely reflected this culture.

    But it's the fact that these meetings involved a major political party, where the purpose was to discuss election strategy? That's not common. For the very good reason of upholding of editorial independence. It's here where this turns pear-shaped. Obviously Mr Taurima calculated he could return to TVNZ after his failed candidacy bid last year, few questions asked. It's one of the peculiarities of modern Maori life : people are expected / obligated to wear many hats. Perhaps a reflection of the many-faceted questions in need of answers in Te Ao Maori, and so few people capable of leading? Maybe. But in this case, Mr Taurima should have removed one of his hats and kept it off.

    Can he still vie for the Tamaki Makaurau candidacy? I'm not sure. It may depend on whether Cunliffe has faith in him? Tough sell I think.




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