Brian Edwards on Shane Taurima, Linda Clark and Conflicts of Interest

My good friend Brian Edwards has this to say about Shane Taurima and his actual conflict of interest:

There was nothing terribly complex about Shane Taurima?s situation with regard to his job as Head of TVNZ?s ?Maori and Pacifica Department once he had, albeit unsuccessfully, ?sought the Labour Party nomination for the Rawhiti Ikaroa seat following the death of Parekura Horomia. Taurima had very publicly nailed his political colours to the mast. In doing so he had effectively disbarred himself from any further involvement in News or Current Affairs broadcasting with the state broadcaster. The potential conflict of interest could not have been more clear.

Television New Zealand apparently did not see it that way. Perhaps they thought that Taurima?s failure to actually win the nomination made all the difference. He had been a?would-be?Labour candidate, not an?actual?Labour candidate. ?(And, as it turned out,?would be?again.) That rationalisation is so facile as to be laughable. Taurima was politically tainted. He should not have been re-employed in his previous role. But he was.

When he took things even further and ?turned his TVNZ office into a Maori/Pacifica Labour Party branch, Taurima did his employer a favour. ?Without actually hanging portraits of Savage, Fraser and Kirk on the walls, the conflict of interest in which he and others in his department now found themselves could not have been more patent. To his credit, Taurima had the grace and good sense to resign.

He resigned because the case was so clear cut there was no other option. Unfortunately for Shane Taurima he thought Labour would stand by their electorate chair, instead they have given him the cold-face and turned their back.

There is actually nothing new about all of this. The list of television and radio? broadcasters working in news and current affairs who are or have been simultaneously engaged in activities which conflict with their obligation to be and be seen to be utterly impartial in all matters relating to their jobs, is extremely long. They may well be in the majority. Conflicts of interest among such practitioners abound.

Brian would know of course being a failed Labour candidate while maintaining a long career in television and broadcasting, who then went on to be the media trainer for Helen Clark and other Labour politicians.

Edwards then adds some rather clear thinking around the position of Linda Clark.

So in the absence of a denial let?s assume that Linda Clark is media training David Cunliffe. She?s also been employed by TV3 on its current affairs programmes?The Vote?and?The Nation?and may be included on a panel during the channel?s election night coverage.

In defending Linda Clark against suggestions of a conflict of interest between her (alleged) media training of the Leader of the Opposition and her work for the channel, TV3 was at pains to emphasise that she was not employed ?as a journalist, interviewer or host? but as ?a moderator and political commentator?.

Well, that?s all right then. Quite clearly there?s no way a television moderator or political commentator could be influenced in favour of someone who was paying her for advice on how to handle the media. The very thought is unworthy. [nota bene: this paragraph is ironic]

Now I want to make it clear that I?m not suggesting that Linda Clark would be influenced in such a way. I?m not questioning her honesty or integrity. But conflicts of interest aren?t just about reality; they?re also about perception. And it isn?t a good look for someone who is media training a political leader to be involved in any way as a neutral moderator or commentator on a news or current affairs programme. Unless there is an outright denial of Key?s accusation, Clark should not be fulfilling any role in TV3?s current affairs or election coverage.

Or unless she wants to do a Brian Edwards or Michelle Boag and openly declare her political allegiance. Then we?ll all know exactly where she and we stand and can judge the merits of her commentary accordingly.

It is ok to be biased…I’ve said this often, but it incumbent on the broadcaster or journalist to be honest about it.

For my part I am not a member of any political party, though I do support National, mainly because Act has lost its way. I tend more towards libertarianism, but again that is such a small part of NZ politics it is fruitless in pursuing that avenue. So accordingly I support a party and hope to influence their thinking away from statism towards more libertarian views.