NZ public broadcaster faces ‘political headache’ over Breakfast anchor saga

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Resigned current affairs anchor Kamahl Santamaria
Resigned current affairs anchor Kamahl Santamaria saga ... raises questions about TVNZ's recruitment processes, managing complaints, and responses to questions of public interest. Image TVNZ Screenshot APR

Pacific Media Watch newsdesk

The “sorry saga” of former Breakfast celebrated host Kamahl Santamaria’s abrupt departure from Television New Zealand last month has created a political headache for the public broadcaster, says the country’s leading daily newspaper.

The New Zealand Herald said in an editorial in its Sunday edition this was “much more than celebrity tattle”.

Santamaria, 42, a New Zealand journalist who had arrived back in Auckland in April to take on this role after a stellar 16-year career as a news and current affairs anchor at global broadcaster Al Jazeera, abruptly quit TVNZ last month and then went to ground.

In a profile of the broadcaster on April 27 — the week before Santamaria appeared on his new programme, The Spinoff’s editor-at-large Tony Manhire went beyond the “Mr Serious” image:

“Over the course of those 16 years, the first of which was before the [Al Jazeera English] channel went to air, Santamaria found himself surrounded in the desert city [Doha] by a cluster of other New Zealanders; Anita McNaught, Elizabeth Puranam, Tania Page, Charlotte Bellis and dozens of others behind the scenes who became known as AJE’s ‘Kiwi mafia’.”

The Herald editorial tried to put the controversy in perspective.

“First and foremost, it should always be remembered there are real people who have been affected by what has taken place,” it said, pointing out that Santamaria had been taking over hosting TVNZ’s morning current affairs show after veteran broadcaster John Campbell had left.

“But, after just 31 days on the job, he mysteriously resigned.

“Despite TVNZ saying his disappearance was due to a ‘family emergency’, The Herald spoke with a number of women who claimed to have received questionable messages from him.

“A number of emails sent internally to TVNZ staff about Santamaria’s departure were then leaked to The Herald. One email outlined plans for a review of the state broadcaster’s recruitment processes after the abrupt resignation.”

Middle East angle
According to The Herald, the sequence of events not only called into question TVNZ’s recruitment processes, “but also the response to managing complaints, and the manner in which the state broadcaster responds to questions of public interest”.

The TVNZ controversy was also a headache for Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi at a time when he was trying to “merge RNZ and TVNZ into a non-profit ‘public media entity’ as a multi-platform public service provider capable of fulfilling its cultural and civil remit into the 21st century”.

Meanwhile, said the newspaper, it had been revealed last month that “five Radio New Zealand employees have been accused of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct or sexism in the last five years”.

Three of them had left the broadcaster as a result and the other two people were no longer working for RNZ at the time the allegations were raised with management.

No changes had been made to RNZ’s sexual harassment policy as a result of the complaints, according to information released to The Herald in an Official Information Act application.

“Media organisations, including ours,” noted The Herald, “have struggled to maintain ideal working environments at times. The mix of rolling deadlines, pressures of live news reporting, and vigorous personalities can amount to a brew of tension and manifest sometimes in unacceptable behaviour.

“Other industries will have their own examples and challenges but we all must accept our responsibilities and failings and strive to be better,” the newspaper said.

“But the circumstances at TVNZ give rise to such a raft of concerns, Minister Faafoi needs to insist on full disclosure of what has taken place, and what will be done about it.”

At least one news commentary and current affairs site, The Daily Blog, has offered a different explanation to the Breakfast controversy: “One version of what happened was Santamaria cursing the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and Israel for the assassination of his former Al Jazeera colleague, Shireen Abu Akleh.”

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