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Roberts ankles TVNZ

Net, controversial topper mum on reasons

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — TVNZ topper Neil Roberts has ankled the network after just one controversial year.

Roberts, 50, was picked by the network to be its general manager after CEO Chris Anderson left to return to Australia. The flamboyant former indie producer, who founded leading Kiwi production house Communicado, is now incommunicado over the reasons for his departure.

Equally reticent is TVNZ, and, with neither side commenting, speculation has centered on his frustration at not being able to promote his vision of “Great New Zealand Television.” This was a project which aimed to increase local content across the board. However, it ran into a corporate cost-cutting human resources exercise that also involved the U.S. based Tucker Group.

In addition, Roberts has openly disagreed with the active, hands-on policies of TVNZ’s government-appointed chair, Roseanne Meo. Traditionally TVNZ chairmen are supposed to keep a distance from network operations. However, the opposition Labor Party is concerned by suggestions from news staff that Meo has overstepped her role as board chair and tried to influence news coverage of the power crisis which blacked out the city of Auckland in March.

Meo was also in the news this week for flying to Sydney last week to meet Lachlan Murdoch, the News Corp. heir apparent. With a free-market government intent on selling assets, including TVNZ or parts of it, her visit provoked more criticism.

Undeterred, TVNZ executives also met with that other Australian media magnate’s son, James Packer. TVNZ says this is normal practice, but rarely, if ever, have TVNZ chairmen flown to Australia to discuss operational aspects.

Roberts leaves a big gap in production expertise at the top tier of the state broadcaster. The company’s new CEO Rick Ellis is a former senior airline executive who has no media experience.

Compared with the production-savvy executives of the past, TVNZ’s top management team is now dominated by human resources and advertising suits, although one of its channels, TV One, is headed by a former news and current affairs boss.