Plunket v RNZ

October 20th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Radio New Zealand Morning Report host was “distressed” at being told to find another job if he didn’t like his employer’s decision he could not write a column for Metro magazine, he told the Employment Relations Authority.

Plunket took RNZ to the authority after he was refused permission to write the column, along with being refused permission to moderate two televised debates, for TVNZ and TVNZ6.

The TVNZ6 debate was one on Internet issues, and probably had a viewership of a few thousands. I was amazed that could somehow think this was a threat to them.

Plunket disagreed with RNZ’s claim that the secondary work was a conflict of interest, saying his employer was not in competition with the other media, and the work would have helped raise his profile, and, in turn, RNZ’s.

Exactly. As a taxpayer who funds Radio NZ, I object to their behaviour to act as if they were commercial radio. They are not. They are funded by the taxpayers to provide a public service, and locking their staff up does not serve the public interest.

At a meeting with RNZ’s chief executive Peter Cavanagh earlier this year, Plunket was told he was part of the broadcaster’s “brand”, as though “anything I said or did anywhere would reflect on Radio New Zealand”.

He said Mr Cavanagh later told him “you might find the offers stop coming if you don’t have the profile of Morning Report” and “if you don’t like it, get another job”.

And this was over a once a month column in Metro. Sure if Plunket wanted to go on NewstalkZB every week, I could understand some reluctance – a but a Metro column?

Plunket said he believed he was being treated differently to other RNZ reporters and presenters, who were given permission to do similar secondary work.

RNZ journalists Chris Laidlaw, Kim Hill and Brent Edwards gave evidence this morning that they had done work for other media while employed by RNZ.

But RNZ said Hill and Laidlaw were entertainment presenters, whereas Plunket was a news presenter, so there were different ethical responsibilities in their roles.

Kim Hill is entertainment? Wouldn’t want to tell her that.

Political editor Edwards had appeared on TVNZ’s Agenda, but said he understood he was representing RNZ in that role and had not been paid.

And this is the bizarre argument from RNZ. They claim it is about ethical issues, but then here they claim it is about whether you get paid. Are they saying Plunket could write the column if he did it for free?

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31 Responses to “Plunket v RNZ”

  1. MikeNZ (3,234 comments) says:

    What a bunch of lefty Pansies.
    OK for them to treat people like that, but wo betold anyone else.

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  2. Danyl Mclauchlan (1,066 comments) says:

    I think this is about his relationship with his boss, not the specifics of the case.
    Plunkett is a great interviewer but we have to admit he wouldn’t be the easiest person to manage.

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  3. tvb (4,242 comments) says:

    In a convoluted way RNZ are trying to say that Sean is part of their “brand” and without that brand he is worthless. Sean should just call their bluff and look for offers elsewhere. But wait they are funded by the taxpayer and would not care if they lost Sean they would just round up some leftie, pay them nothing, and simply carry on. I do not believe RNZ is providing balanced programming with their tendency to hire lefties and present a “left- progressive” viewpojnt. It would be very interesting to test this issue.

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  4. MikeNZ (3,234 comments) says:

    I concur TVB
    But isn’t that the Kiwi problem, big govt doesn’t represent everyone and least of all Heartland NZ.

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  5. nickb (3,675 comments) says:

    Does anyone else have a big telecom ad in the middle of the post?
    Is that intentional?

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  6. Brian Smaller (4,026 comments) says:

    I was laughing out loud when the TV news said that Radio NZ wanted to maintain it’s standards of impartiality.

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  7. dimmocrazy (286 comments) says:

    What a fantastic scenario for the government to conclude that it’s really not in the taxpayers’ interest to fund any of this nonsense. Stop taxpayer support for RNZ IMMEDIATELY. (Together with all funding of broadcasters, television stations and programs and sporting events).

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  8. s.russell (1,580 comments) says:

    It may have been foolish of RNZ to restrict Plunket’s external activity, but don’t they have the right to do so?

    I face the same rule in my job: I am not allowed to do work for a competitor, and there is a clause in my contract that says I must get permission to do any work beyond my core employment. This does not seem unreasonable to me.

    The charge of treating various employees inconsistently is more serious, but apart from that I don’t think Plunket has a case.

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  9. TripeWryter (715 comments) says:

    So, does that mean that Fraulein Hill can now be nominated as Entertainer of the Year?

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  10. metcalph (1,402 comments) says:

    I have sympathy for Sean’s plight but isn’t what he seeking here in effect a judicial review of a management decision? I’m not sure that’s a good thing

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  11. Leg Break (89 comments) says:

    I’m looking forward to this issue making Morning Report.

    Plunkett interviewing himself, and failing to listen to the answers as he does, would be fantastic listening.

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  12. Craig Ranapia (1,915 comments) says:

    s.russell:

    I think you’ve nailed it — RNZ (like any other broadcaster) is entitled to put an exclusivity clause in their employees contracts. But if you’re going to do that you’ve got to be consistent; and I think there’s something rather disingenuous about RNZ’s claims that “Hill and Laidlaw were entertainment presenters, whereas Plunket was a news presenter.” (Let’s just get the snide bitching about their shows not being entertaining any way. I’ll wait.)

    First: Their shows both contain news/current affairs-style interviews, and I’d really like to know what the lower ethical bar for such shows is at RNZ. (You don’t have to be quite so accurate and balanced on the weekends?) So would potential guests, I suspect.

    And if my memory serves, Hill was working outside RNZ when she was hosting Nine to Noon. Is that a news or entertainment programme?

    Danyl Mclauchlan might have a point as well — this is more about the personal relationship between Plunkett and RNZ management (which can politely be described as dysfunctional and high maintenance) than an actual or perceived conflict of interest. Could it be that if it was anyone else there wouldn’t have been an issue?

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  13. stoliver (16 comments) says:

    There are some important points of fact to remember in this case.
    1. Plunket’s contract does not contain an exclusivity clause
    2. He doesn’t require the permission of his RNZ to do work outside RNZ if its not in competition, and doesn’t represent a conflict of interest.
    3.Radio New zealand threatned to fire him for writing the metro column, and threatened to fire him if he did the internet debate without demonstrating any real or potential conflict of interest.
    4. The Bill of Rights guaruntees all New zealanders freedom of expression and the freedom to voice opinions in any forum and to whomever they chose.
    5. Your primary employer does not have the right to exercise right of veto over everything you do outside your place and hours of work…that would be slavery.

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  14. anonymouse (708 comments) says:

    re: point 4. I suspect that it will be found that this right is not absolute, and can be tempered by contracts and agreements. Gagging clauses in employment contracts are common, and there is no real view that this is illegal.
    The NZ bill of rights act does not supersede or over ride any other legislation.

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  15. gravedodger (1,528 comments) says:

    s.russell 10.32 I accept your points but where is the competitive point of contact between RNZ and Metro. I don’t consider any MSM to be in serious competition with RNZ.

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  16. RRM (9,638 comments) says:

    What sayeth Sean Plunket’s employment contract with RNZ, in all of this?

    (Edit: Just read Stoliver’s post above – excellent.)

    Most of this discussion is just no-gummint idealogues sticking it to public radio with glee.

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  17. trout (918 comments) says:

    Plunket’s interviewing style is to answer the question in the question itself and then flail the interviewee for failing to agree with him. And then substitute bluster for incisive investigation. Oh for the days when Mike Hoskings made RNZ Morning report worth listening to.

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  18. peterwn (3,208 comments) says:

    In 2000 RNZ wanted to give Brian Edwards the heave ho from Saturday am. Rather than have a HR fight, they said two things to him:
    1. No extra pay next year.
    2. You pick up the tab for dealing with defamation claims (which were costing RNZ about $30,000 a year all up for his show).

    He walked, and not even Annette King (from memory) or Helen Clark stepped in to save the day for him.

    He is now reduced tp placating little old lady investors at ING meetings and similar work.

    I think Sean Plunket is in a similar situation and they have sprung the ‘no moonlighting’ trick on him to help ease him through the door. If RNZ has been acquiescing to such moonlighting, I think they will have a hard time nailing him especially if Kim, etc have not been similarly nailed. RNZ’s attempt to distinguish his situation from Kim etc seems rather disingenious.

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  19. malcolm (2,000 comments) says:

    Nothing to see here. Other than that Plunket and RNZ do not have a clear contract which states what each party can and cannot do.

    If RNZ want to have a “no moonlighting” clause in the contract then they are free to do so. Just as Sean is free not to accept the offer. In the absence of a clear contract, you’ll get a bun fight.

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  20. ben (2,414 comments) says:

    Somebody employed Brent Edwards? Paid him actual money?

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  21. adc (582 comments) says:

    DPF – why don’t you ask your mates at RNZ about what a special case Plunket is. My understanding is that there hasn’t been an employer yet that he hasn’t taken to the ERA. I don’t think there’s a media outlet in NZ that will touch him with a barge pole because of that. That and all the fishing he does from the company pond. What does that tell you?

    AFAIK he’s been through the process so many times, I’m cynical about his statement about being distressed. I think he knows exactly what to do and say to the ERA.

    That would be why his bosses won’t be looking to give him any slack.

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  22. stoliver (16 comments) says:

    well adc your understanding is completely at variance with the facts. Radio New Zealand is the only employer Plunket has ever taken to the Employment relations authority and on the two previous occassions I understand the matters were settled in his favour. Given that he has worked for private radio,tvnz,tv3 and i think the auckland sun newspaper that hardly establishes a pattern of behaviour. Might be more productive to find out how many times RNZ has been taken to the era by plunket and others and ask why the Lynne snowdon case is still unresolved with a 450 thousand contingent liability on rnz’s books to cover it.

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  23. Rex Widerstrom (5,327 comments) says:

    tvb suggests:

    Sean should just call their bluff and look for offers elsewhere.

    Except that the electronic media is NZ is such a tiny incestuous pool, which can be so readily polluted by those with an axe to grind, he’d find himself effectively unemployable. The country needs more independent media but the policy of auctioning new frequencies effectively limits competition to one or two players (including those who, like CanWest, are prepared to send themselves to the brink of bankruptcy to lock out competition rather than be satisfied with that they’ve got and compete against newcomers on merit).

    The loss of Sean would be a pity… the broadcast media need interviewers with historical perspective, intelligence and tenacity, all of which he brings to the table.

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  24. adc (582 comments) says:

    stoliver

    I’m only going on what I’ve been told by ex RNZ and TV3 staff. Maybe you have better sources.

    As for the ERA finding in his favour. when do they ever find in favour of the employer? Pretty much never. Sorry, that proves nothing. Where there’s smoke there’s fire – you admit he’s been to the ERA 3 times? Well that’s an excellent way to get on any employers good side. Sorry, as an employer I’d never touch anyone I knew had taken anyone to the ERA. It tells me loud and clear they can’t deal with things in a basic human way without getting lawyers involved and racking up costs and stress. I don’t want anyone like that anywhere near my company. The media industry in NZ is small. Everyone has worked for everyone, and everyone knows all the little secrets. If you think SP has a snowballs chance of getting employed by another major media organisation, lets suggest iPredict puts up a stock on it. I’ll be short selling for sure.

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  25. stoliver (16 comments) says:

    sorry adc what it tells us all is that as an employer radio new zealand can’t deal with things in a human way and prefers to get lawyers involved and rack up costs {borne by the taxpayer}. Evidence presented yesterday suggested Plunket bent over backwards to try and resolve the issues. If Im hiring journalists I don’t want compliant systems driven areslickers…they never break stories or have the balls to get to the truth. Might add if he’s been to the era before why did rnz hire him? and last time I looked hiring someone doesn’t make you their lord and master outside work.

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  26. adc (582 comments) says:

    my initial point was that due to past history, relations have been as I understand it strained between RNZ bosses and Plunket.

    I believe this is probably why he was treated in this manner. I’m not saying I agree with it. I think he will probably win this case, mainly because the ERA isn’t known to look at facts, but rather just seems to find in favour of the employee, leaving it to go to appeal court to be properly dealt with.

    Regarding your point about who can deal with things without involving lawyers. Well who took who to the ERA. I think you’ll find it wasn’t RNZ. Your view that he bent over backwards? Well he asked them for something, they said no, so any movement from that point isn’t bending over backwards. It’s bending over backwards just as much as my son bends over backwards to get icecream when I said no.

    I agree, you don’t want to hire malleable people as journalists.

    But I think an employer is completely justified in not allowing an employee to work for a competing organisation, using company assets (his profile). RNZ can argue his profile is a result of RNZ investment, and therefore is property of RNZ. Most media outlets ban all manner of things (like accepting gifts). I don’t think he can successfully argue he should have been allowed to do this, and him working in news vs an entertainment show is a world of difference.

    They really should have sorted all these things out in a proper agreement though, since with these sorts of jobs there are a lot of other issues not present in most everyday jobs (e.g. gaining profile, ownership thereof etc).

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  27. Poliwatch (335 comments) says:

    Ok, David, have you asked your boss about appearing on RNZ on The Panel several times? I am sure that you have been diluting the KiwiBlog brand :)

    As for Sean – please, please , please find another job. There must be somewhere where your whining interviewing style would be appreciated.

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  28. voice of reason (491 comments) says:

    adc (424) Vote: 0 0 Says:
    October 20th, 2009 at 8:45 pm
    “when do they ever find in favour of the employer? Pretty much never”
    “mainly because the ERA isn’t known to look at facts”

    Stupid statements without any basis in fact.
    Stats from the DOL website I saw last year showed in all cases the ERA found in favour of the employee 58% of the time
    Its just that the cases employees lose are not often publicised.

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  29. adc (582 comments) says:

    vor – the cases you see published indeed are usually when the employee wins. But seem overwhelmingly to be when they seemingly shouldn’t.

    I’m not saying the ERA should never find in favour of the complainant. I’m saying on reported cases, it appears they are biased towards the employee. That is an image issue they should be working on fixing.

    I’d be interested in stats of how many ERA cases go to appeal and get overturned.

    oh, and apparently Plunket hasn’t only taken RNZ to court (3 times), but also TV3 and others. Smoke… fire…

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  30. stoliver (16 comments) says:

    dear ADC you really are arong about your assertions regarding plunket’s litigiousness. The only other employment case he was involved in was when TV3 threatened to sue him for leaving to join morning report. Radio New zealand then took action against TV3 to secure his services…no ruling was needed as the parties came to a private agreement. There is no other instance of employment court action he’s been involved in. As you appear to work in the media Im sure you are aware of the law of defamation. In the absence of any factual proof or reference to back your claims of other action might, like to reconsider your position.

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  31. adc (582 comments) says:

    stoliver. what part of “I’m only going on what I’ve been told by ex RNZ and TV3 staff.” don’t you understand.

    No, I don’t work in the media.

    But the fact I am told these things points at least to issues around his reputation.

    I’m sure you’re also aware of restraint of trade clauses in employment contracts. I’m speculating here, but I imagine if what you say is correct, TV3 may have had issues with him going off to work for a competitor. When you’re in that game, every job you take is working for a competitor, so I imagine a restraint of trade would be hard to enforce.

    So where do you get your information from then?

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