MediaWorks paying price for chief executive’s interest in politics, says staffer

MediaWorks chief executive Cam Wallace is a

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MediaWorks chief executive Cam Wallace is a “self-confessed political junkie”.

MediaWorks is proposing to cut the profitable parts of its business while largely sparing its weaker performing news and talkback radio channel Today FM, a source within the business says.

The employee said chief executive Cam Wallace was more interested in politics than the media and feared that it had influenced the company’s approach to cutbacks announced this week.

His claims have not been accepted by the company.

MediaWorks announced on Tuesday that it would cut up to 90 roles within the businessof which about 50 are actual jobs, with the remainder being unfilled vacancies.

The source said cuts were taking place across the business, including in its finance department, but its direct sales team would be especially hard hit, with about half of its 30 or so managers facing redundancy.

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That would be “catastrophic” for the medium and long term future of the business, whose engine room included local music and entertainment channels such as More FM and The Breeze, he said.

In contrast, Today FM had been asked to make token savings that amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, he said.

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Political journalist Tova O’Brien joined MediaWorks’ radio business last year (video first published in March).

Today FM was launched in March as a successor for Magic Talk about 14 months after Magic Talk was embroiled in a controversy over its failure to immediately counter racist comments voiced on air by a caller during one of its talkback segments.

Today FM was portrayed as “wiping its face”, which implied it was paying its own way, but that masked its low ratings and the support it had been getting from other parts of the business, and was better described as “a vanity project” that the company could close down tomorrow without missing a beat, the source said.

“There’s an abject refusal to acknowledge the truth about the short, medium and long term future of this brand and at the same time they are forcing the revenue-generating and most profitable part of the business to make wholesale significant changes that have no chance of succeeding.”

MediaWorks spokesperson Anna Cross said that Today FM was “a long term project and is performing in line with its commercial business plan”.

“It’s important for a network radio business to have an effective competitor in the talk segment and one that is an attractive proposition for advertisers and audiences,” she said.

A survey by ratings agency GfK in December reported that Today FM was capturing about a 1.4% share of the overall radio market during most of the second half of last year, a small fraction of the audience held by NZME-owned rival Newstalk ZB.

MediaWorks director of news and talk Dallas Gurney said new brands took years to build.

“If we wanted instant results, we would be doing something that played to the old talkback model with the same old names doing the same old things.

“We have a massive year planned out on the station and we know our audience will grow as people discover us,” he said.

The employee said Wallace had been open to many people within the business about his passion for politics and the National Party and ended online meetings during the period of Covid with a book review, which was always a book on politics.

There was speculation within the business that he regarded his role at MediaWorks as a stepping stone to a role in the political sphere “though in what capacity we don’t know”.

Wallace previously worked at Air New Zealand as chief revenue officer, including during National Party leader Christopher Luxon’s tenure as chief executive of the airline, before taking up the reigns at MediaWorks in 2020.

The majority of the executives of MediaWorks worked at Air New Zealand at some point in time and were internally referred to by staff at the media firm as “the cabin crew”, he said.

“He is Team Luxon.”

The employee said he was voicing his views out of concern for the business.

Invited to comment, Cross said it was “widely known in business, media and political circles that Cam is a self-confessed political junkie – it’s on his Twitter profile”.

“His focus is his role as chief executive of MediaWorks,” she said.

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