13 Oct 2009

Government backing of rugby bid upsets Maori Party

8:42 pm on 13 October 2009

The Maori Party is crying foul over the National Government's backing of a TVNZ bid for free-to-air broadcasting rights to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

It was revealed on Tuesday that the Government has offered financial support to state-owned broadcaster TVNZ for the joint bid with rival network TV3, giving it the edge over a bid by Maori Television.

The Government's actions have resulted in the strange position of two public broadcasters being in a bidding war, both backed by taxpayer funds.

Maori Television has a $3 million contribution from the Ministry of Maori Development and TVNZ has been told it can approach the Cabinet for an undisclosed amount of funding if it wins the bid.

In Parliament on Tuesday the Maori Party questioned whether Finance Minister Bill English has a conflict of interest over the bids.

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell pointed out that Mr English was a shareholder minister in Maori Television as well as being Finance Minister.

Prime Minister John Key said no money has been given to the TVNZ bid at this stage, but acknowledged the process has been less than perfect.

Mr Key said the aim is to ensure as many people as possible can view the games.

Move grossly unfair, says Sharples

The Government's move has caused tension with the Maori Party, which has pledged support for National.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said he does not know why the Government has put two public broadcasters against each other.

Dr Sharples, also the Minister of Maori Affairs, believed the TVNZ bid was made knowing how much the Maori Television bid was worth.

"I'm extremely disappointed. I think our bid was transparent; I think their bid was made knowing how much Maori Television had bid. I think it's grossly unfair."

Dr Sharples described what has happened as a breach of etiquette and fair play.

However, Broadcasting Minister Jonathan Coleman said it is hoped Maori Television will also come on board and the Government would help with funding if necessary.