TVNZ reveals why it blamed Kamahl Santamaria exit on 'family emergency' as he admits touching colleague led to departure

Former TVNZ presenter Kamahl Santamaria admits his touching a colleague led to departure
Former TVNZ presenter Kamahl Santamaria admits his touching a colleague led to departure. Photo credit: Supplied

Disgraced former Breakfast host Kamahl Santamaria has finally admitted that his touching a colleague at state broadcaster TVNZ is what led to him leaving the company in May, 2022.

In a statement on Monday, the broadcaster also explained why it used the phrase "family emergency" to explain Santamaria's on-air absence weeks into starting his new role.

In a lengthy statement posted to his own website, Santamaria gave more of his side of the story with regards to the accusations of misconduct that saw him ousted from the state broadcaster, which he first addressed in a podcast earlier this year.

Following his departure from TVNZ several allegations about Santamaria's behaviour at former employer Al Jazeera emerged including that he kissed colleagues without consent, touched them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable and sent them inappropriate messages.

In the new statement on his website, Santamaria claimed coverage of his TVNZ departure had included "a lot of misinformation and disinformation regarding what occurred" and that he was "prevented from speaking out and telling the facts".

"Various claims were made in the media about 'at least one allegation' and in some reporting (including TVNZ's own reporting, while I was still an employee) of 'multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour'," he wrote.

"I can clarify right now that ONE complaint was made against me at TVNZ.

"This involved an allegation of touching a colleague in the newsroom. For the record, it was never alleged by anyone at any time to be sexual and/or harassment. When the allegation was brought to my attention verbally in a meeting with a senior HR member and the then-Head of News and Current Affairs, I immediately recalled the interaction and made it clear that any touching had been an instinctive action on my part, with no ill-intent. I was not aware of any power imbalance at the time of the interaction or that the colleague felt any discomfort. 

"However, based on what I was being told at that time, I did accept that it had made my colleague feel uncomfortable and I immediately apologised for that.

"I also completely acknowledge - then and now - that the colleague was absolutely correct to make a complaint if any actions had made them feel uncomfortable."

Santamaria also claimed there was "always a context" to the touching and that: "Importantly, it happened in the newsroom environment where expressiveness and tactility were commonplace."

In the 4000 word statement posted on his website on Sunday, Santamaria revealed it was he who asked TVNZ to initially describe the reason for his abrupt exit from Breakfast as a "family emergency".

"When asked by TVNZ to give feedback on my continuing on-air absence, I suggested it be described as a 'family emergency' because to me and my family, that is exactly what it had become. TVNZ agreed to this," he said.

On Monday, TVNZ released a statement regarding its use of the phrase "family emergency".

"The decision to agree to Mr Santamaria's request was made because it was a fast-moving situation and the parties were in the midst of an employment process," reads the statement, which was published on 1News

"The intention was that the explanation would protect the privacy of all parties involved until resolution of the issue. Subsequently, (on 2 June 2022), TVNZ's then CEO told staff that 'the use of the phrase family emergency was inappropriate' and apologised for its use."

In the podcast episode released earlier this year, Santamaria downplayed the multiple accusations of sexual harassment made against him but also admitted he got things "wrong". 

The first episode of Santamaria's RE:Balance podcast talked about the allegations and the effect they had on his mental health. 

"It is very much informed and directed by my own experience over the past year, and yes I will be using it to set some records straight," he told listeners.

"Because in the end, I trust myself to tell my story."

When Santamaria resigned from his role as TVNZ Breakfast presenter he had been in it for just 32 days.

In July, 2022 TVNZ's head of news and current affairs Paul Yurisich resigned following an investigation into the media company's hiring processes in general, as well as the specific recruitment of Santamaria.