Maori TV – finding a new CEO

It’s difficult to know what the real story is at Maori TV.

The media campaign seems to be led by John Drinnan at the NZ Herald and it has been politicised in Parliament by Clare Curran, MP for Dunedin South, with Shane Jones weighing in as well. Some “iwi” interests that want to divert funding from the TV Service to “iwi” TV might be mixed up in the saga as well.

Crown appointed Board member Ian Taylor has resigned over the issue. There’s nothing unusual about that. When you disagree with board process or decisions you either win your argument, gracefully accept defeat, or resign. Happens all the time.

On the other hand Maori TV staff have joined the public fray, or perhaps caused it  by petitioning to block the appointment of Paora Maxwell. It seems obvious that members of the staff have been feeding the media and perhaps the Labour Party.

It is reported that Carol Hirschfeld, Mike Rehu, Paora Maxwell and Richard Jefferies applied and that Maxwell and Jefferies were the two finalists. The Board was divided between the two. That’s not an unusual situation, except that the mischief makers have muddied the waters by implying that the process was somehow invalid because of a mentoring-type relationship between Maxwell and Board chair Georgina Te Heuheu, who took him under her “Aunty Georgy” wing a long time ago. The board itself has said that all conflicts of interest were declared as part of the process. The shortlisting proccess was overseen by the deputy chair so Georgina’s declared interest should not have influenced Maxwell’s selection to the final list.

The conflict of interest of one board member, even if that is the chairperson, is easily dealt with according to standard procedures. It should not be a problem at all. There were six other members of the board before Taylor’s resignation.

The Maori TV board members are Georgina Te Heuheu (Chair), Cathy Dewes, Piripi Walker, Rikirangi Gage, Tahu Potiki (Deputy Chair), Donna Gardiner and Ian Taylor (up to his resignation). Georgina, Donna and Taylor are Crown appointees. That’s a fairly impressive lineup well able to make the right decision. So if they were unable there must have been good reasons for that. One good reason is that it seems they were trying to reach a unanimous decision. Well anyone who has done anything in Te Ao Maori (and in Te Ao Pakeha) knows that unanimity is very very difficult. Good luck.

On the surface it looks like a choice between a broadcaster (Maxwell) with limited management experience and a manager (Jefferies) with no broadcasting experience. The outgoing CEO was certainly not a broadcaster and under his stewardship MTS flourished. If a broadcaster is appointed he or she must have strong management credentials, or must have a strong management team around him or her. No doubt there are also considerations about Te Reo revitalisation and promotion.

What usually happens when a board cannot decide on an appointment is that you start the process again and interview the other applicants and/or call for new applications. It is better to start again than to compromise on an appointment. After all the whole board has to be able to work with the CEO. So whatever the reasons for the standoff the proper process is to start again.

No doubt the media and politicians are not revealing all that they know, or think they know, but who cares. There are often issues with senior appointments particularly in a small country like New Zealand where everyone in a certain field knows everyone else.

Board conflict over senior appointments is commonplace and is usually resolved out of the glare of the media and free of political interference. What we need is for the best possible person to be appointed CEO of Maori TV to take it through the next phase of its journey. The board were unable to decide so they should start again. There’s nothing unusual about that despite what we are being told.

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