TV3’s owner Mediaworks is closing weekly current affairs TV show 3D, which employs the network’s most experienced journalists – but it might have a legal battle on its hands.
The programme’s staff were told about the decision today, and a statement from Mediaworks said consultation with staff had concluded and redeployment options would be explored.
“The challenge now is to explore new ways to deliver high quality investigative journalism,” the statement said.
RNZ understands some 3D staff are disputing the grounds for closing the programme, and are pursuing joint legal action over anticipated redundancies.
The company said last month it was proposing not to renew 3D for next year.
Mediaworks head of news Mark Jennings said in a statement at that time: “Long-form current affairs is challenging to make commercially viable all over the world. Given the way media consumption habits are changing, unfortunately continuing 3D may not be possible”.
Staff members were given one week to put forward an alternative proposal to save the programme, which will now screen only two more episodes this month.
The decision follows a review of all news and current affairs at Mediaworks, driven by chief executive Mark Weldon. He took over in 2014, leading a new management team that took Mediaworks out of receivership and focused on improving TV3's financial performance.
Mediaworks closed down TV3’s current affairs show Campbell Live earlier this year, in spite of a public campaign to retain it. Mediaworks chairman Rod McGeoch told the New Zealand Herald the company had responsibilities to shareholders, which had lost hundreds of millions of dollars.
"We put news on, but only because it rates. We sell advertising around news. This is what this is all about," he said
3D did not attract a large prime-time audience, often estimated at below 100,000 viewers.
It was cut from one hour to 30 minutes in August and moved to Sunday evening. In September, TV3 moved the programme again to Monday at 9.30pm.
But the programme’s investigative journalism has been widely praised. Its reports on the case against convicted killer Teina Pora were described as instrumental in exposing a miscarriage of justice and the quashing of his conviction.
3D investigated the deaths of New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan, and the show also challenged the findings of an investigation into the fatal Fox Glacier air crash in 2010.
The show was supported with public money. New Zealand on Air granted $567,000 for 10 investigations from its Platinum Fund, earmarked for programmes that couldn't otherwise be made in a commercial TV environment.
“Investigative journalism is fundamental to a strong democracy and national debate,” NZ on Air chief executive Jane Wrightson said at the time that decision was made. "It is clear that the logistics of a weekly stand-alone investigative journalism programme are not viable, so funding a segment within an existing series makes sense.”
The management at Mediaworks, it seems, were not swayed by the same argument.
Staff contacted by RNZ said they were unable to comment.
A statement posted to the 3D Facebook page said the decision was "a huge disappointment":
Most of us are long-serving employees of TV3, some have been with the company since it started more than 25 years ago. We have put everything into our work, often in stressful and dangerous circumstances, reporting on the people and issues that matter to New Zealand. While most of us are serving out our final days as employees of MediaWorks, we cannot comment further.
Before last Monday’s episode of 3D, however, reporter Paula Penfold said on Twitter it would feature her last story.
Ok you smart Twitter people who want journalism, it's about to air on @3D_TV3. And it's my last story so it'd be really kind if you watched— Paula Penfold (@paulapenfold) November 30, 2015