Mediaworks radio show launch hinges on outcome of Tova O’Brien employment case

Tova O'Brien was hired by Magic Talk to host the station's breakfast show.

Robert Kitchin / Stuff

Tova O’Brien was hired by Magic Talk to host the station’s breakfast show.

The launch date of the rebranded Mediaworks breakfast radio show depends on the outcome of broadcaster Tova O’Brien’s job dispute.

O’Brien says a trade restriction clause in his contract is being used in a punitive way to prevent him from working in a completely different role on radio.

O’Brien finished with Discovery NZ, the owner of TV3 and Newshub, in November to take on a role with rebranded breakfast radio station Mediaworks earlier this year.

Things understands that his contract with Discovery does not officially end until the end of January. There is another three-month trade restriction clause in the contract, which could delay his scheduled start date of Monday.

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During a hearing at the Employment Relations Authority in Auckland on Tuesday, O’Brien said she felt the clause was being used in a punitive way.

“I feel like I’m being punished, I feel like a point is made,” she said.

“I feel like there’s a fight between Discovery and Mediaworks…and I’m caught up in it.

She told Authority member Maria Urlich that before she took on her role as political editor on Discovery’s Newshub, she received assurances from the chief information officer that the trade restriction clause only covered similar roles.

O’Brien said if she had known the clause would prevent her from doing “the only thing I know how to do”, she would not have signed.

Presenter Tova O'Brien says she never thought the trade restriction clause in her contract would cover a completely different role.

Provided

Presenter Tova O’Brien says she never thought the trade restriction clause in her contract would cover a completely different role.

“Basically, you’ll tell every reporter that you can never advance your career and go to another employer without a three-month gap.”

O’Brien said she went from being a political editor to covering everything, including “ducks falling in love with kittens.”

“Being pulled out of this one industry that I know of… It’s not worth thinking about. It makes me completely miserable.

O’Brien said she gave Newshub 14 years and had a good relationship with her colleagues and management.

“I didn’t expect it to be so acrimonious.”

Discovery attorney Peter Kiely said his client was also seeking a conclusion and sanction after O’Brien appeared in a promotional video for Mediaworks while still on Discovery’s payroll .

O’Brien told the hearing that his inclusion in the video lasted about three seconds.

THINGS

Talkback radio hosts and producers typically have access to a “dump button” when calls go bad. It was not used when a racist and false tirade was broadcast by Magic Talk.

The hearing also heard from former Mediaworks news chief Hal Crawford, who hired O’Brien as a political editor in February 2018.

Crawford said the non-compete clause was added to give the company some breathing room in case O’Brien is poached by a competitor.

“On television, the public becomes attached to the presenters.”

He wouldn’t be drawn on exactly who he would consider a competitor, but said the clause could have been invoked if O’Brien had gone to Things or the New Zealand Heraldgiven the new digital media landscape.

O’Brien had worried about the clause but thought three months was “reasonable”, he said.

“I wanted to reassure Tova that I would definitely not use this as a punishment for leaving.”

He said he had never applied a trade restriction. His own contract had a six-month clause, but he left New Zealand, so it was not enforceable.

O’Brien has been hired to host the rebranded Mediaworks breakfast show Magic Talk and will compete with Mike Hosking in the competitive morning radio market.

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