Disgraced US TV show host Matt Lauer is in dispute over public access to New Zealand land he owns.American news anchor Matt Lauer says he’s being picked on because of “difficult times” he’s been through as he defends himself during a stoush over land he’s bought in New Zealand.
The former Today Show host – who was fired by NBC in November over allegations of sexual misconduct – bought a 6500ha high-country station in New Zealand’s South Island last year.
He passed the Overseas Investment Office’s “good character” test to hold onto the land earlier this year, but has now become embroiled in a long-running dispute over public access to the land.
Although the condition’s of his ownership allow for some public access, the country’s Walking Access Commission and Department of Conservation are now asking to put in an total easement on a 40km road that runs through Lauer’s property and into the pristine Hunter Valley – something he would be legally entitled compensation for.
With headlines across New Zealand saying taxpayers could be forking out money to millionaire Lauer for the access, the former newsman took to state broadcaster Radio New Zealand on Tuesday to defend himself.
Lauer said the government was trying to change the rules on him, that he had complied with nearly all requests for access thus far and that the application for the easement was unprecedented.
“I believe the groups that are behind this are in some ways unfortunately taking advantage of some difficult times I’ve been through over the past six months and I think they see me as an easy mark,” he said.
“I don’t know what the problem [is] they’re trying to solve because we have never denied people access who have gone through the correct procedure and called the station and said they were prepared to be on the road and properly equipped.”
Asked if he would look for compensation, Lauer said he would “explore” the notion, but denied he had already asked for a figure in the millions, as suggested in some reports.
“I have not demanded a cent,” he said.
The Walking Access Commission says access is currently at Lauer’s whim and that without full public access, the conservation park on the other side of the land is “essentially unusable”.
Lauer had been the Today Show’s host for 20 years before his dismissal and was reportedly one of the highest-paid news readers in the world.
In March, 2017 he purchased the Hunter Valley Station in Wanaka, which stretches along Lake Hawea.
The property is estimated to be worth $NZ13 million ($A11.95 million).
The dispute has also become a political football in New Zealand, with the government criticising the previous administration for allowing Lauer to buy the land.