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TVNZ executive Shane Taurima resigned after revelations last night that he took part in a Labour Party hui and that at least one Labour meeting was held at the TVNZ building.
3News reported last night that TVNZ offices were used to host a meeting of Labour's Tamaki Makaurau branch last year.
TVNZ staff emails were also used to organise a subsequent hui in January this year which Labour leader David Cunliffe and several others MPs attended.
Mr Taurima, the head of TVNZ's Maori and Pacific unit, had acted as a facilitator in a discussion about the Maori vote at that January hui and three other TVNZ staff were also invited.
He had put his name forward to be Labour's candidate in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection last year but was beaten by Meka Whaitiri. Mr Taurima stood down from his TVNZ role during the selection, but was given the job back afterwards.
Mr Key told TV3's Firstline programme today there was a risk the station looked biased, even though he did not believe that was the case.
"They'll have to have a bit of a look and they'll have to work out who knew and who approved that."
Mr Key said he was surprised Mr Cunliffe did not think it was odd to be going to a political meeting held at the TVNZ building.
There would not need to be a "witchhunt" with an inquiry, but the matter should be investigated, he said.
"It's a bad look for the broadcaster, it will embarrass them.
"It was important for everybody in the public service to be careful, Mr Key said.
"People hold political views in the public service and that's absolutely totally acceptable and they vote in all sorts of different directions, as you'd expect.
"But obviously there's a very clear line...this will just be embarrassing for Television New Zealand and they'll want to make sure they get to the bottom of it.''
- Taurima releases statement:
Mr Taurima released a statement this morning that said he fully accepted that some of his actions in supporting the Labour Party might be seen to have crossed the line and he unreservedly apologised.
"I categorically deny that my political affiliations have had any influence on any editorial decision that I have made during this time or at any time in the more than 12 years that I have been honoured to work in many roles at TVNZ.
"However, questions have been raised that have brought into question the integrity of the crucial work of my colleagues at TVNZ. This is unfair and unacceptable and as a result I have resigned.''
He denied that other staff members in his former unit were political activists.
"They are not activists. They are passionate friends and people that I love and respect who committed to provide some support to me. They are wonderful people whose enthusiasm led to some poorly considered decisions. Decisions that were not to benefit them individually.''
Mr Taurima said he had made no decisions about his future and would be making no further comment at this time.
"I apologise again for any damage or upset that my actions may have caused.''
- TVNZ head of news: It reflects badly on us:
TVNZ head of news John Gillespie said Mr Taurima had been upfront that he was considering standing for Labour in Tamaki Makaurau at the next election and had briefed his bosses last week.
However, he said TVNZ had not known of Mr Taurima's involvement in the January hui or about the use of TVNZ offices to hold a Labour Party meeting.
Mr Gillespie told Radio New Zealand the station was investigating the incident.
"This goes to the heart of our editorial values and independence and it's something that we just can't abide by.''
Mr Taurima resigned after Mr Gillespie became aware of what had been going on, he said.
When he contacted Mr Taurima yesterday afternoon, Mr Taurima told Mr Gillespie he was not aware other staff members in his unit had been arranging meetings for the Labour Party involving the Tamaki Makaurau electorate.
Mr Gillespie said he believed him, even though Mr Taurima was scheduled to speak at one of those meetings.
"The reason he has resigned was because of the event he took part in last month and that was an unfortunate oversight by Shane and he would say that was a huge lapse of judgement and it absolutely was.''
Mr Gillespie said that at no time did staff raise concerns about the broadcaster's offices being used for Labour Party business, but they should have.
The events reflected badly on the whole of TVNZ, he said.
"I have to say that we are gutted by that...we take our editorial independence incredibly seriously - it's a cornerstone of what we do here everyday, it always will be a cornerstone of what we do here everyday.
"These people have nailed their political colours to a TVNZ mast. It is untenable.''
He said an investigation would look into whether there were any other anomalies.