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Kamahl Santamaria saga: TVNZ news boss Paul Yurisich on leave during investigation

After the abrupt resignation of Breakfast host Kamahl Santamaria, multiple women have accused him of sending inappropriate messages. Video / TVNZ

The head of news and current affairs at TVNZ is on leave during an investigation into the hiring of former Breakfast host Kamahl Santamaria.

Paul Yurisich has been in the spotlight for the past week after Santamaria quit abruptly just 32 days into the job.

It is understood that Yurisich recruited Santamaria from Al Jazeera, where the pair also worked together.

Santamaria’s departure comes after allegations emerged of his inappropriate conduct with women.

Paul Yurisich joined TVNZ as the head of news and current affairs in late 2020. Photo / Supplied
Paul Yurisich joined TVNZ as the head of news and current affairs in late 2020. Photo / Supplied

Meanwhile, a TVNZ staffer confirmed that chief executive Simon Power apologised to staff this morning about the organisation’s initial claim that Santamaria’s resignation was related to a “family emergency”.

They confirmed he apologised and said it was “wrong”.

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

Power said it was his view the recruitment policy has not been followed consistently. Power said he shared this view with Broadcasting and Media Minister Kris Faafoi on Tuesday.

He said once the review is complete he will share any of the recommendations with TVNZ staff.

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.

Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi said today he had spoken again with the TVNZ board “of a general update”, but declined to say what the conversation was about or whether it included Yurisich.

“I won’t be getting into any of the details around that,” Faafoi said.

“All I will say is that I reiterated our expectations around processes being in place, them being robust and that they should be followed.”

Faafoi said he had first received a “high-level update” about the situation at TVNZ from the board chair regarding Santamaria last Monday, May 23.

Santamaria was at the time on leave for what TVNZ called a “family emergency”.

Faafoi then had two phone conversations with chief executive Simon Power on Saturday afternoon ahead of Santamaria’s resignation being made public.

“Power gave me an update on Saturday afternoon because of events that obviously came to light on Saturday afternoon,” Faafoi said.

The public statement released by TVNZ at the time made no mention of any allegations of misconduct facing Santamaria – which Stuff reported the following day – only referring to “a personal matter”.

Faafoi did not directly answer a question about if he had been told about the allegations Santamaria was facing before they were revealed on Sunday.

Asked for his view on how the matter was framed as a “family emergency”, Faafoi said: “that is a matter for TVNZ”.

“I can’t direct them. I’m prevented by law from doing that. I was very interested in making sure that their processes were robust.

“I sent a letter to them asking that they check on their processes around recruitment.

“They’ve obviously come back and said that they are going to have an inquiry and it’s the right thing to do.

“I was given a heads up by Mr Power on Saturday, about the fact that they were going to announce the resignation. That’s what Saturday was about.”

Yurisich joined TVNZ as the head of news and current affairs in late 2020. He had been a senior producer with TVNZ before departing for Al Jazeera English in the mid-2000s.

TVNZ said he “has since built an impressive resume” with senior roles at Al Jazeera in Doha and Bloomberg Media Hong Kong when they announced his appointment in September 2020.

Yesterday, Santamaria appeared to have removed his social media presence – deleting his Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts.

His personal website, kamahlsantamaria.com, has been changed to a private setting.

Meanwhile, international broadcaster Al Jazeera has called a staff meeting to talk about working in a safe environment after the accusations about Santamaria.

In an email to staff at the Doha-based broadcaster, managing director Giles Trendle said there would be suggestions for any employees who may be feeling alone or unsure of where to turn.

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