8 May 2017

Māori TV boss resignation 'new dawn', critics say

8:12 pm on 8 May 2017

Māori Television chief executive Paora Maxwell, who has resigned three years into his five-year contract, says he has few regrets.

The Maori Television building logo

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

In a statement, board chairwoman Georgina te Heuheu thanked Mr Maxwell for his work and commitment to the government-funded TV station.

Paora Maxwell.

Paora Maxwell Photo: MAORI TV

Mr Maxwell said it was a difficult decision but changing family and business circumstances have led to his decision to leave.

He declined RNZ's requests for an interview today but did speak to Māori TV programme Te Kaea, which asked if he had fallen out with the station's board.

"The speculation is speculation, that's what's happened, but the real reasons why I'm leaving Whakataa Māori are personal ones," he told the programme.

His appointment was controversial from the start, with a staff petition appealing to the board not to appoint him. The Labour Party also waded in on the controversy at the time, accusing Ms te Heuheu of giving the job to her mate.

Ms te Heuheu said due process was followed and the whole board was involved.

"That recruitment process at the time we were going through - it seemed to be a biggie for others. We followed process. We followed due process," she said.

"It takes the whole board to appoint somebody. That's what we did. He came in, there was a lot of work to do, he just got on with it and so did we."

About a third of Māori TV's staff left during Mr Maxwell's time at the station. Ms te Heuheu was not concerned with that turnover rate.

"We've gained very good experience in that time. Again, you can't stand still. You've got to work hard to try and attract good talent and I think we have. The results show we have."

RNZ requested an interview with Māori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell, who supported Mr Maxwell into the role and was a key speaker at his pōwhiri in 2014 but he declined, saying it was an operational matter.

Mr Flavell would only say the board had met its targets.

Resignation is an opportunity to move forward - Labour

Labour's Māori broadcasting spokesperson, Peeni Henare, who has been critical of Mr Maxwell's management in the past, said his resignation was a good opportunity for the channel to refocus.

Peeni Henare

Labour's Peeni Henare says Mr Maxwell's resignation is an opportunity to refocus. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"[The board] seem to have come to the conclusion or at least offered an opportunity for Paora to move on and I think that's an opportunity for everyone to put their energies into moving forward," Mr Henare said.

"I'm just glad they've been able to see the back of Paora and hopefully a new dawn," he said.

A former executive director at the station, Mandy Toogood, lost her job at Māori TV soon after Mr Maxwell was appointed.

Ms Toogood, who has worked throughout the industry and across different television networks for almost 30 years, said she often reflected on the loss of staff that followed her exit.

"A lot of experience walked out that door that they'll never regain.

"Specifically Julian Wilcox, Carol Hirschfeld ... There were many other people behind the camera that the public wouldn't know of by name."

But Mr Maxwell told Māori TV he was proud of his achievements and did not have too many regrets.

"I'm very happy that we have a focus at Whakataa Māori about our audience. I'm not too sure it was there before I arrived but I could be wrong," he said.

"I don't think there'll be a kaimahi in the building that wouldn't understand the importance of engaging with our audience ... Our kaupapa is about engagement.

"Taking the language, Te Reo, and the tikanga to our people, hei oranga, but also taking it to wider New Zealand. And what we know now is that we're very effective about what we do."

Mr Maxwell will step down at the end of August but will remain with Māori TV until the end of 2017 as a consultant.

Shannon Haunui-Thompson and Mihingarangi Forbes previously worked for Māori TV and Carol Hirschfeld is now RNZ Head of Content.