The Taurima affair
Shane Taurima lost his job at TVNZ for mixing up work and politics but PSA legal adviser Fleur Fitzsimons says TVNZ’s response was a step too far.
What did Shane Taurima do wrong?
Shane Taurima used TVNZ resources such as email, phones and photocopiers to organise party political activities for the Labour Party. The cost was very little and the emails were mainly short and administrative in nature. But it was inappropriate as public, taxpayer-funded resources must not be used for party political purposes.
What has TVNZ done about it?
As soon as the story broke, Shane Taurima resigned. TVNZ commissioned a review into the use of resources, the possibility of political bias. The review was also asked to make recommendations about how well TVNZ policies and practices on possible conflicts of interest are handled.
What did this review find?
It found that Shane Taurima inappropriately used taxpayer-funded resources for party political purposes. There was no bias in any of the TV programmes he was involved with or interviews he did.
The review also said that Shane Taurima breached TVNZ’s policy on conflicts of interest and that he should have disclosed his political activities to his employer.
What did the panel recommend?
This is where things start to become problematic. One recommendation was that that certain employees cannot be members of political parties or carry out political activity. Included in the list are the heads of legal and corporate affairs and anyone with editorial influence on political reporting.
The report goes further and recommends that, in other roles where there is editorial influence on any matter, or where the staff member is a senior manager, they must disclose membership of a political party to TVNZ.
Can TVNZ forbid staff from belonging to a political party?
No. The PSA considers that TVNZ staff can be members of a political party and engage in political activity; any attempt to restrict these activities is unlawful as it breaches the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993.
Can TVNZ require staff to disclose membership of a political party?
No. TVNZ is not entitled to require employees to disclose membership of a political party. In our view, this is a breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Privacy Act 1993. There is simply no lawful reason why TVNZ is entitled to this information. The approach of TVNZ merely serves to reduce the rights of all employees to engage freely in our democracy.
Why do employers think they can erode fundamental rights?
It is clear that TVNZ has over-reacted and over-reached. TVNZ staff, like all New Zealanderd are free to associate with who they choose. They can join and be active in political parties or other political activity – such fundamental rights cannot be revoked in this way.
What is the PSA doing about it?
National secretary, Brenda Pilott has written to the chief executive of TVNZ and the state services commissioner detailing our objections requesting that they issue a public statement affirming that TVNZ staff have the same fundamental rights and freedoms as other New Zealanders and that the recommendations will not be accepted.
The PSA has met with the SSC and will meet with the head of TVNZ CEO will occur if the matter is not resolved quickly.
How can I be politically active?
Employees in the public sector are free to engage in political parties and be politically active. Clearly, this should occur in your own time and not use resources from your workplace. The SSC has issued some guidance on political activity in election year. It is on their website.
This article is from the June 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.