Santamaria exit: TVNZ boss angry over leaked email

Kamahl Santamaria quit after a complaint was made over his behaviour towards a female colleague....
Kamahl Santamaria quit after a complaint was made over his behaviour towards a female colleague. Photo: supplied
A top TVNZ boss has told staff he is "embarrassed" and "frankly disgusted" after an email from the chief executive was leaked to The New Zealand Herald.

The CEO has ordered a review into the state broadcaster's hiring process, following the abrupt departure of Breakfast host Kamahl Santamaria.

Santamaria quit after 32 days in the job, after a complaint was made over his behaviour towards a female colleague.

There have also been reports that he acted inappropriately - including unwanted physical advances and sending lewd emails - while working for his previous employer Al Jazeera.

Story production and operations general manager Andrew Fernie sent a furious email to staff - also now leaked to the Herald - this afternoon, saying the challenging time did not excuse leaking internal emails to other news outlets.

"When I read 'TVNZ chief executive Simon Power, in an email to staff obtained by the Herald' on the Herald website, I feel so embarrassed and frankly quite disgusted. This is the time that we should be sticking together."

He wrote that it felt like "our reputation and our brand is being wilfully destroyed right now".

"We'll get through this together, but together should not include the wider media. Look around the room. There's a team of loyal, hard-working professionals trying to do their jobs. Don't make it harder."

The initial leaked email had outlined plans for a review of TVNZ's recruitment processes.

Shortly after the leak the company released a statement regarding the situation.

Power, in the email to staff obtained by the Herald, said a senior lawyer has been asked to review recruitment policies, processes and practices to ensure they were fit for purpose and appropriately robust.

He said it was his view that their recruitment policy had not been followed consistently and needed to be reviewed. Power said he shared this view with Broadcasting and Media Minister Kris Faafoi today and once the review was complete he would share any recommendations with TVNZ staff.

"We do not tolerate any form of harassment or inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. We're committed to providing a working environment that is inclusive and respectful," Power said in the email.

"I've asked senior employment lawyer Margaret Robins to review our policies, processes and practices to ensure they are fit for purpose and appropriately robust. When that review is complete I'll share any recommendations with all TVNZers."

He said there had been "many lessons" learned over the last few days and thanked staff for their commitment and care.

While Power said he was unable to comment on specific employment matters, he wrote that he wanted to share his thoughts on a "general level".

"If a team member raises an issue concerning the behaviour of another team member it's taken extremely seriously, treated confidentially, and investigated swiftly. Our number one priority, regardless of other matters, is to support and care for any individual who raises an issue."

That, he said, was of the utmost importance.

It is understood that staff at the state broadcaster are unhappy with the relative lack of consultation before Santamaria was made Breakfast co-host last month. He replaced John Campbell, who is now chief correspondent at TVNZ.

Santamaria has yet to publicly address the allegations and has gone to ground amid a media firestorm over the circumstances of his hiring and his resignation. The Herald has made multiple attempts to contact him over several days to address the allegations.

TVNZ staff are understood to be upset, believing Santamaria was hired without proper diligence or consultation.

More women come forward 

Two more women have come forward alleging that Santamaria behaved inappropriately with them online.

One woman, who worked with him at TV3 at the start of his career, said Santamaria messaged out of the blue several years ago saying he used to watch her in the newsroom.

Another woman, currently working in the media in New Zealand, said he sent her messages from a private Instagram account used to follow mostly women, including many Kiwi journalists.

They came forward to speak on condition of anonymity after the Herald reported claims from a former Al Jazeera colleague that Santamaria was accused of sending multiple women inappropriate messages in his previous role at Al Jazeera.

The colleague alleged multiple complaints against Santamaria were made to Al Jazeera's human resources department and senior management over several years.

The woman who worked with Santamaria when he was a young reporter at TV3 in the late 1990s said he approached her on LinkedIn about five years ago with a message he had since deleted.

"I remember it said 'I used to watch you walk across the newsroom floor,'" she said.

"It went on to say something else, which I can't remember the exact wording of, to the effect of I thought you were .... really hot or gorgeous or something like that."

The message ended with an emoji with heart-shaped eyes, she said.

"I was a little bit taken aback. It just seemed kind of out of character from the person I had worked with, and had liked a lot."

The message made her feel uncomfortable, she said.

"I guess I took it as a pretty strong indication to engage in flirtatious dialogue with him, which I didn't reply to."

His behaviour was not in keeping with the man she had worked with more than two decades earlier.

"I remember him being really sweet and nice and I liked him ... It just seemed really incongruous to get that message from him; I was really surprised, actually."

The second woman to speak to the Herald on Tuesday, who currently works for NZME, said Santamaria recently followed her from a private Instagram he maintains alongside a public profile, then sent her several messages.

He also liked several of her old photos. The conduct made feel her uncomfortable, she said.

She investigated Santamaria's private profile and found of the 155 accounts he followed, 143 were women, including many working in the media in New Zealand and his female TVNZ colleagues.

Minister seeks assurance 

Minister of Broadcasting Kris Faafoi said this morning he had sought an assurance from TVNZ that appropriate recruitment processes had been followed, RNZ reported.

"I think those things are important to make sure those processes are followed, it keeps the company safe.

"I've sought an assurance, we were given a no-surprises update, I'm not going to get into the detail of it. It's not for the broadcasting minister to get involved in HR issues within the public broadcaster."

He said at the time he was hoping to hear back within two or three days.

 

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