14 Oct 2009

Maori TV to lead joint bid for Rugby World Cup

10:17 pm on 14 October 2009

Prime Minister John Key has stepped in to put an end to a bidding war over television coverage of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

The tournament will be held in New Zealand from 9 September, with the final being played at Eden Park in Auckland on 23 October 2011.

The Maori Television Service (MTS) is to lead a joint bid with Television New Zealand and TV3 for free-to-air rights following a meeting in Auckland on Wednesday.

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

The MTS bid had been boosted with $3 million of funding from the Ministry of Maori Development, Te Puni Kokiri.

However, Mr Key intervened on Wednesday to end the bidding war, funded in part by taxpayer money, saying the process has been far from perfect.

The Prime Minister directed the broadcasters to work together toward one bid and that the Government prefers that MTS take the lead, with TVNZ and TV3 playing a role.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister says the situation is not fully resolved, but things are on the right track. TVNZ has withdrawn its bid, while Maori TV's remains on the table.

Maori Party leader and Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples has been scathing of the Government's backing of TVNZ's counter-bid. He described the development as a win for MTS.

Mr Key has maintained the most important aspect of the successful bidder is wide coverage, but says promotion of the 2011 Rugby World Cup to ensure good ticket sales is also important.

Ticket sales are the Government's only revenue stream from the event.

Mr Key says he does not believe the issue has damaged his or the National Government's relationship with the Maori Party.

Meanwhile, World Cup minister Murray McCully is denying Maori Party accusations that he tried to derail the original Maori Television bid.