Derek Fox labels rugby coverage fiasco 'scandalous'

Sports Minister Murray McCully is being blamed for stirring up the debacle over who will broadcast free-to-air coverage of the World Rugby Cup.

Former Maori Television Service (MTS) chief executive, and former spokesman for Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, Derek Fox said Mr McCully was "donkey deep" in attempts to spike MTS's bid to the exclusive free-to-air rights.

The Government is financially backing a last minute TVNZ-TV3 bid to screen the free to air games in competition against a MTS bid.

The Government said its concern was to ensure that all New Zealanders could get to see the games but Dr Sharples, also Maori Party co-leader, disputed that coverage was the issue.

Mr Fox said ministers had known about the MTS bid going in for the rights, after early bids by TVNZ and TV3 had been rejected by the International Rugby Board.

It was not until Mr McCully became involved that things had turned to custard.

Officials had been called in for a meeting with Finance Minister Bill English to discuss the bid, but instead Mr McCully had spent the meeting attacking the officials about the bid.

"He is denying he is involved and he's donkey deep in what's going on," Mr Fox said.

The Government had been first alerted in June about MTS's bid.

"Then there were howls of outrage last week and the week before with the Government saying it is not a way to use Government money, there was no proper process...it is all nonsense." The Government was now saying it was perfectly acceptable to use taxpayers' money to back TVNZ and TV3.

"Money is being used to top an existing bid and is being filed with the knowledge of what that bid is," Mr Fox said.

The coverage issue had also been sorted out.

Mr Fox said he could think of no other reason except prejudice.

"I think it is scandalous," Mr Fox said.

He also accused ministers of giving TVNZ and TV3 private commercial information.

This has been denied by ministers.

Mr Fox resigned from Dr Sharples' office a month ago, for unrelated reasons, and has been working out his notice.

Dr Sharples said today there were a lot of motivations behind the Government's attempts to trump MTS.

"It's about control, it's about fear of not selling their tickets and promoting their tickets and I think (they are) a little bit scared of a bit of Maori language on it." The cup is being held in election year and that was another factor, he said.

"I think also the fact that perhaps that it mightn't come off and that would be so bad for a Government in an election year to have the rugby world cup not be broadcast suitably...

"These are all contributing factors in my mind -- a lack of confidence in Maori Television to do it." He continued to back the MTS bid, which may result in a bidding war if iwi follow through on providing additional funds.

 

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