Griffin won’t voluntarily hand over Curran recording

After a weekend and a bit of pondering RNZ chairman Richard Griffin has advised that he won’t hand over a recording of a phone conversation between he and Clare Curran, despite acknowledging this is in breach of a select committee directive.

It’s hard to know whether he is staunch in protecting the recording, or is wanting the select committee to demand more strongly that it be handed over.

NZH: RNZ chairman Richard Griffin won’t hand over Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran’s voicemail

RNZ chairman Richard Griffin says he has no intention of handing over a voice message left on his mobile phone by Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.

“No, I have no intention of handing it over, so I’m in breach of the select committee directive,” he told the Herald.

He declined to comment further, saying a letter outlining the reasons why had been sent to the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee.

The committee had requested the voicemail and other communications between the Minister and Griffin following his and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson’s appearance last week to correct the record over a meeting between RNZ’s former head of content Carol Hirschfeld and Curran.

Select committee chairman Jonathan Young said the committee would meet on Wednesday to review last week’s hearing.

He said a number of issues would be canvassed. Whether to ask Hirschfeld to appear would be discussed only if it was raised by a committee member.

National MP Melissa Lee, who has driven questions over the meeting, said she had not yet had a chance to review the committee documents so would not say whether she would raise the possibility of Hirschfeld appearing.

So this issue will get another airing after the select committee meeting tomorrow.

Curran’s future may depend on phone call

RNZ chairman Richard Griffin and chief executive Paul Thompson appeared before a select committee in Parliament yesterday to correct inadvertent erroneous assurances made to the committee last month that resulted in RNZ news manager Carol Hirschfeld.

Minister of Broadcasting Clare Curran was already under fire for her part in organising a meeting with Hirschfeld and subsequently appearing to avoid disclosing that the meeting had taken place. It also appears that Curran threw Hirschfeld under  bus to protect her own (political) career, and she added to Jacinda Ardern’s difficulties as Prime Minister. Ardern still backs Curran, but she must be getting exasperated with apparent ineptitude.

More was revealed at yesterdau’s meeting, but perhaps the career killer blow wasn’t reevealed – the contents of a phone call Curran made to Griffin. Their descriptions differ.

Andrew Geddis at RNZ: Politicians seek different narratives at RNZ hearing

This hearing ostensibly was to allow the chair of Radio NZ’s board, Richard Griffin, and chief executive Paul Thompson to correct their previous inaccurate statements about the now-infamous breakfast meeting between Radio NZ’s head of content Carol Hirschfeld and new Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.

Back at the start of March, Mr Griffin and Mr Thompson informed the committee that Ms Hirschfeld had assured them this meeting was an inconsequential coincidence; nothing more than a chance encounter following a gym workout. They subsequently found out that Ms Hirschfeld had misled them and the meeting was a prearranged discussion about the state of New Zealand’s media.

Correcting the record then becomes necessary because misleading a select committee is potentially a contempt of Parliament, in theory punishable by a fine or imprisonment. And even if Parliament chose not to pursue the matter as contempt, public bodies simply should not lie to their political overseers, intentionally or otherwise.

National did possibly draw some blood with its questions regarding Minister Curran’s subsequent communications with Mr Griffin. She left him a voicemail last week which he characterised as containing a “strong suggestion” that rather than turn up before the Committee in person to answer questions, he just provide it with a written statement.

This is important, because Minister Curran has told both the public and the Prime Minister that her message to Mr Griffin simply advised him that providing a written statement for the Committee’s meeting last week would be a quicker way of correcting the record. If she in fact went beyond this and actually counselled him not to attend in person, then she will be in real trouble.

National MP Melissa Lee’s last action at the Committee meeting was to request a copy of the relevant voicemail. Minister Curran’s political future may well rest upon what it says.

Curran was quick to release texts between her and Hirschfeld that left no doubt that Hirschfeld had lied to her bosses about the meeting – it is still not known whether she was trying to protect herself or Curran.

Curran’s future may rest on whether Griffin releases a recording or transcript of the phone call.

NZH: Richard Griffin says he was told not to comment on Hirschfeld, Curran meeting

Griffin told the committee today that on March 22, about five minutes before Curran was due in Parliament to answer questions, he received a call from her office.

Griffin said he was “gobsmacked” to receive the call to say the December 5 meeting could come up in the questions.

“The staffer’s attitude was ‘we will handle this appropriately but we’d like you basically to stay out of it’. I was gobsmacked quite honestly.”

In a timeline provided to the committee, Griffin said: “I was told that, if the matter was raised, the Minister and her staff would be responding as they felt appropriate and that they expected there would be “no comment” from RNZ”.

It was reported on Tuesday that Curran had phoned Griffin on March 29 to suggest it would be better for him to write a letter rather than appear in person.

Both Curran and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have denied that, saying Curran left a phone message to pass on advice from the Office of the Leader of the House that a letter would be faster to correct the record if Griffin was unable to make it to the select committee in person.

Today Griffin said: “She made it very clear that she wanted me to write a letter to the chair of the select committee to be on his desk before one o’clock that day which would then ensure that there wasn’t a public hearing involving either of us.”

NZH: PM Jacinda Ardern reiterates support for embattled minister Clare Curran

Their appearance in Wellington was pre-empted by reports yesterday that the Broadcasting Minister had phoned Griffin to suggest it would be better for him to write a letter rather than appear in person at Parliament.

Both Curran and Ardern earlier denied that, saying Curran left a phone message to pass on advice from the Office of the Leader of the House that a letter would be faster to correct the record if he was unable to make it to the select committee in person.

After opening a science block at Waitaki Boys’ High School, Ardern today stated eight times there was no new information over the Carol Hirschfeld affair involving Curran, or the phone call she made to Griffin about his appearance at the select committee.

Ardern confirmed she had spoken to Curran about her recollection of the voicemail and it matched up with what had been recollected at select committee today.

“The minister has clearly made mistakes, she has apologised for them.

“I certainly advised her that the call to Richard Griffin should not have been made, but as I say there’s nothing new that we have learned from today that we didn’t already know.

“From what I hear has come of today’s meeting, there is no new information, I have reprimanded the minister for making that call she shouldn’t have, but I don’t think we’ve learned anything new from today that we didn’t already know.”

Ardern’s credibility as leader is also at stake over this.

This may all fizzle out now, but will flare up again if the phone call is handed over.

RNZ:

Curran’s problems with RNZ will extend into next week

The story about resignation of RNZ journalist and manager Carol Hirschfeld, and the survival (for now) of Labour MP and Minister Clare Curran, who gave an impression she was saving her career by throwing Hirschfeld under a bus, will move to more chapters of Easter and next week.

And there could be more for Curran to deal with. There were suggestions in Parliament yesterday that she may be subject to a breach of privilege complaint.


Question No. 10—Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media

10. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media: Who from her office contacted Radio New Zealand on two occasions to raise the issue of the inconsistencies in Carol Hirschfeld’s account of the circumstances of their meeting?

Hon CLARE CURRAN (Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media): Immediately following the Radio New Zealand (RNZ) annual review in select committee on 1 March, a member of my staff alerted RNZ to inconsistencies. That was further reinforced with RNZ last week. It is not my practice to name individual staff members. I take full responsibility for my staff acting on my behalf.

Melissa Lee: Who at Radio New Zealand did her office contact on those two occasions?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: My understanding was it was the communications manager at RNZ.

Melissa Lee: How did the member of her office contact Radio New Zealand on those two occasions?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: By telephone.

Melissa Lee: Did she or anyone from her office contact Carol Hirschfeld to inform her that the circumstances of their breakfast meeting had been misinterpreted to the select committee?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: No.

Melissa Lee: When she found out on 1 March that the circumstances of their meeting had been misrepresented to the select committee, why didn’t she bring that to the attention of the select committee?

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just would like to receive some reassurance. There is a very clear Speaker’s ruling that if a matter is the subject of a breach of privilege complaint, it cannot be raised in the House. If a breach of privilege complaint has been raised about this then it cannot be the subject of questions.

Mr SPEAKER: I can deal with that without referring to whether one has been or not. One can’t refer to a breach of privilege complaint, but the matters which might be contained in the complaint can still be the subject of questioning. Ask the question again, please.

Melissa Lee: When she found out on 1 March that the circumstances of their meeting had been misrepresented to the select committee, why didn’t she bring that to the attention of the select committee?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I think it was appropriate for my staff to inform RNZ of an accurate account of events.

Melissa Lee: How many text messages has she exchanged with Carol Hirschfeld since the Astoria meeting?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just want to ask the member to have a—oh no, I’ll let the member answer because I was probably slack earlier in letting her ask about Carol Hirschfeld when she wasn’t the subject of the question. Could you repeat the question? Thank you.

Melissa Lee: How many text messages has she exchanged with Carol Hirschfeld since the Astoria meeting?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: None.


This looks like a continuation of a methodical attempt to skewer Curran. I’m hearing chat that Curran is at risk of being caught out on some of her statements.

Apart from that, of particular note from that exchange:

Melissa Lee: When she found out on 1 March that the circumstances of their meeting had been misrepresented to the select committee, why didn’t she bring that to the attention of the select committee?

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just would like to receive some reassurance. There is a very clear Speaker’s ruling that if a matter is the subject of a breach of privilege complaint, it cannot be raised in the House. If a breach of privilege complaint has been raised about this then it cannot be the subject of questions.

Mr SPEAKER: I can deal with that without referring to whether one has been or not. One can’t refer to a breach of privilege complaint, but the matters which might be contained in the complaint can still be the subject of questioning.

That’s the words that Mallard spoke, but it doesn’t show some hesitation and what appeared to be careful phrasing.

No…I I I I I c…I can deal with that without referring to whether one has been or not. One can’t refer to a breach of privilege complaint, but the matters which…..ah, ah which might be contained in the complaint can still be the subject of questioning.

It’s not difficult to make some assumptions from that.

Some of this will come up in parliament next week at a select committee hearing (delayed from yesterday): RNZ bosses to correct statements at select committee

RNZ has been recalled to a parliamentary select committee after the board chairman and chief executive misled it this month.

Chief executive Paul Thompson and board chairman Richard Griffin appeared for RNZs annual review, where they faced questions about a meeting between Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran and RNZ’s then-head of news Carol Hirschfeld.

Ms Hirschfeld had repeatedly insisted to Mr Thompson that the meeting, held at a Wellington cafe in December, was coincidental.

Mr Thompson and Mr Griffin backed those assertions, but texts later showed the meeting had been arranged about a week beforehand.

Texts actually showed that Curran tried to arrange a meeting starting a month before the meeting,almost as soon as becoming Minister.

Ms Hirschfeld resigned this week over misleading the chief executive about the nature of the meeting.

Mr Thompson and Mr Griffin will return to the committee next Thursday to correct their original statements.

In the meantime, Curran is scheduled to front up on Q&A on Sunday:

Curran has been keen on establishing a free to air linear TV channel via RNZ. Hirschfeld is also thought to be interested in this approach. This is at a time that traditional type broadcast television is fading in favour of on demand streamed content. Thompson and Griffin are thought to prefer a different approach.

What Curran wants, what she can secure budget funding for, and what RNZ see as their best way forward, are all now going to be more difficult to work out.

It will be an interesting interview. It seems odd that Curran might volunteer herself for this sort of scrutiny at this stage of proceedings.

 

Curran survives but she, RNZ and Ardern are compromised

Clare Curran has survived the furore over meeting with RNZ journalist and manager Carol Hirschfeld, so far, but her reputation (such as it was) has taken a hit, and RNZ has also been compromised. This makes the proposals to give millions more funding for what is called RNZ+ awkward at least. Curran has to work with RNZ management on this.

The loser at this stage is obviously Hirschfeld, who had no option but to resign after it was found that she had repeatedly lied to her bosses about the cafe meeting. Because of her false denials two bosses misinformed Parliament and will be fronting up today to correct statements that had made to a Select Committee.

Jacinda Ardern has given Curran a talking to and a pass, but has looked weak dealing with it (in a difficult situation for her).

Curran remains as a Minister, but she is being slammed all over media, not just for instigating a meeting that she should have known was  ‘naive’ for an incoming minister – correct protocols should have been the first thing she found out about – but I suspect that Hirschfeld was liked a lot more than she was by journalists.

It looks like Curran threw Hirschfeld under a bus to protect her own career. But it is still hard to fathom why Hirschfeld concocted a false story to explain her meeting – was she trying to protect herself or Curran?

It is not just Labour’s plans for RNZ that are compromised. Curran is now being ridiculed given her responsibilities for transparency open government.

Hamish Rutherford: Why no calls for Clare Curran, now Minister of Secret Meetings, to resign?

But Curran, the enigmatic MP for Dunedin South, has made herself a type of cocktail party joke that she will probably never shake, for reasons which have little to do with RNZ, but her other title.

The Minister of Open Government.

When your very job title is the punchline of the joke, you are doomed.

In reality her official portfolio title is less poetic – Associate Minister of State Services (Open Government) – but the other, more earnest moniker has stuck.

If Jacinda Ardern is determined not to sack her, she cannot possibly escape the fact that a plank of her Government – to be more transparent than National – is utterly comic while Curran is its figurehead.

New Zealand needs to focus on open government to assure itself that it deserves to be seen as corruption free.

But Curran is now the Minister of Secret Meetings, the Minister of Astoria and the Minister of Costing a Respected Journalist Her Job. She is in no position to drive more open government.

And this has also compromised Ardern in what was already a difficult couple of weeks for her.

Barry Soper: Jacinda Ardern’s shaky defence of Clare Curran over meeting-gate

Curran’s boss Jacinda Ardern’s backing her minister, essentially saying everyone makes mistakes but acknowledging she should have been more transparent.

A bit of an irony for the associate Minister for Open Government!

Ardern used the ministerial behaviour bible to reinforce her support for her sheepish minister, the Cabinet Manual, that sets out the line that must be toed when interacting with the bureaucracy.

There’s one clause in the manual that could make the Prime Minister’s claim that the rules weren’t breached highly debatable.

It says “if an employee wishes to communicate privately with a Minister about a matter concerning the agency by which he or she is employed, the Minister should ensure that the employee has first raised the matter with the agency’s chief executive.”

The fact that the minister sought the meeting – without first informing the RNZ boss – just makes matters worse.

This may yet caus

That’s from Parliament yesterday. Not a very happy looking bench.

The unclear Curran RNZ debacle

There was always some doubt about Clare Curran’s credential’s as a Government minister. She appears to be living down to expectations after an inappropriate meeting in December and a cover up has resulted in the resignation of respected journalist and RNZ manager Carol Hirschfeld (who dug a hole for herself by repeatedly lying about the meeting to her bosses).

And this has made Jacinda Ardern look barely in control of a messy looking coalition government – she has had to paper over the Curran cracks at the same time as avoiding dealing with another mess, the apparent NZ First attempt to bully National MP Mark Mitchell.

Curran is coming unstuck in two of her areas of responsibility, as Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, and as Associate Minister of State Services (Open Government). In the latter portfolio Curran is acting anything but open in Government, in part due to her inappropriate actions in the former role.

The debacle has some bizarre elements. A meeting that both Curran and Hirschfeld have tried to hide and play down was in a very public, a prominent cafe in Wellington.

Curran had originally not recorded the meeting, but was forced to after questioned about it in Parliament. Her diary entry

A screenshot from Curran's diary on the day. Emphasis added by Stuff.

Even that is vague, with just Hirschfeld’s initials and no subject. Curran concedes she was ‘naive’ but she should have known the basics of her responsibilities as Minister, and perhaps she would have got proper advice from staff if she had been more open about what she was doing.

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Problems keep arriving at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s door

Labour’s policy boosts public broadcasting coffers by $38 million, a staggering amount in today’s struggling media environment. It’s not hard to see why a senior executive from an underfunded RNZ might have considered it politic to keep Curran happy when the minister reached out.

Astoria Cafe is not the place  for a secret meeting – it is where the movers and shakers in Wellington go to be seen. Yet when asked by National about her meetings with RNZ, Curran initially omitted it, only correcting the record later.

Hirschfeld’s explanation was that they bumped into each other by accident – only that is not what happened either, according to Curran. She says it was in both their diaries.

But Hirschfeld didn’t change her story, according to Radio New Zealand chief executive Paul Thompson, even after he and RNZ chair Richard Griffin inadvertently misled a select committee by repeating her version of events.

She has paid the price for that. Yet Curran also knew they had misled the select committee, but failed to correct the public record.

Instead, a staffer contacted RNZ on March 1, the same day as the select committee, to query Hirschfeld’s story.

It followed up again with RNZ – this time bringing Griffin into the loop – on March 22. Only then was action taken.

Ardern has made it clear Curran is on notice – if more emerges, her head will be on the block.

RNZ is covering the story:

The effects of Carol Hirschfeld’s resignation from RNZ over an off-the-books meeting with the broadcasting minister go beyond the broadcaster itself. It comes as the minister was putting in place a system to fund broadcasting at arms’ length from politicians, says Mediawatch.

In a press conference this afternoon, Ms Curran said she regretted that Ms Hirschfeld had resigned because of “differing accounts” of their meeting.

She said she never described the meeting as coincidental, but she believed such a meeting could be “both informal and scheduled.”

She was unaware that RNZ had strict policies about meeting with ministers, and after the recent select committee her office contacted RNZ to alert them of the differences.

She should have known.

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson said Ms Hirschfeld had repeatedly assured him that as head of news, her meeting with Ms Curran last December was coincidental and that she and the minister had talked after bumping into each other in a Wellington cafe.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she could not comment on whether Ms Hirschfeld had mislead RNZ, saying it was an operational matter.

She said Ms Curran had said she should have acknowledged the meeting occurred, when asked in Parliament.

“She didn’t consider it to be formal but within 24 hours made sure that it was known that she had had the meeting,” Ms Ardern said.

“She’s acknowledged that and also that when comments were made at select committee she should have corrected the record immediately that it was in conflict with what she knew to be the case.”

Ardern has looked weak on this.

Speaking to media in Parliament this afternoon, Ms Curran said it was a “huge shame” that Ms Hirschfeld had resigned.

Ms Curran said she did not believe it was an official meeting at the time, but an informal catch-up over breakfast to discuss the the state of the media in New Zealand and RNZ’s part in it.

“I got that wrong and I corrected that.”

She said her office contacted RNZ twice after the select committee was told the meeting was a coincidence.

“It then became a matter for RNZ to deal with.”

Ms Curran said she was not aware of RNZ policies regarding staff meeting with ministers, but she did not think the situation had damaged its reputation as an independent broadcaster.

A high profile resignation and a very embarrassing situation for RNZ are significant consequences for Curran’s ‘naivety’.

As a new minister, it would be legitimate for Ms Curran to speak to a wide range of people about what they saw as the issues in her portfolio. However, these meetings would normally occur with ministerial briefings and officials present.

Ms Curran has argued that other than the original mistake she made – in not declaring this as an ‘official’ meeting – that she did not provide any incorrect information.

This is true, as it appears at no time did she state that the meeting was not ‘scheduled’, but she failed to publicly correct what was being said by others about the meeting.

Generally, the public holds those in public office to a higher standard than the rest of the community. Many would expect to her to have corrected the public record regardless of the embarrassment or trouble it would have caused RNZ.

This issue is just another murky issue for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to deal with on top of a series of murky issues.

Hirschfeld has paid the price for her part in this mess with her resignation but the minister is yet to be held accountable, and it appears from the Prime Minister’s statements since the resignation announcement that no action will be forthcoming.

The Prime Minister has been put in a difficult position. The fact that she has been unable to so far discipline NZ First Ministers means it will be tricky for her to take any further action on Ms Curran. To do so would publicly display that there is one treatment for Labour Ministers and another for Coalition Ministers.

Ardern is finding out the hard way that being prime Minister involves a lot more than smiling on magazine covers.

Apart from a few loyal Labour apologists even The Standard is harsh on Curran: An Orwellian Minister for Open Government

ODT (NZME): Curran ‘not trying to push’ RNZ

How it unravelled

December 5: Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran meets  RNZ head of news Carol Hirschfeld  in Wellington and discusses, among other things, the future of RNZ.

December 5: Media commentator John Drinnan blogs about the meeting, saying any discussions about the future of RNZ should be with board chairman Richard Griffin or chief executive Paul Thompson.

December 7: National MP and broadcasting spokeswoman Melissa Lee asks Ms Curran for a list of meetings with RNZ staff since December 1. Ms Curran initially answers that she met Mr Thompson, Ms Hirschfeld and other senior RNZ staff on

February 20: Ms Lee uses parliamentary question time to ask Ms Curran about meeting Ms Hirschfeld. Ms Curran eventually says she did not list the meeting in her written answer because she did not consider it to be an official meeting.

February 21: Ms Curran corrects her answer to Ms Lee’s December 7 question, adding her December 5 meeting with Ms Hirschfeld.

March 1: At a select committee, Ms Lee questions Mr Thompson and Mr Griffin about the meeting and is told it was a chance encounter.

March 1: Ms Curran hears about the select committee hearing and her office tells RNZ  the meeting was pre-planned. Mr Thompson asks Ms Hirschfeld about the meeting again, and Ms Hirschfeld reassures him it was a chance encounter.

March 22: Ms Curran’s office contacts RNZ again to tell them the meeting was pre-planned.

March 25: Following a tip-off to Mr Griffin, Ms Hirschfeld is asked again and admits the meeting was pre-arranged.

March 27: Ms Hirschfeld resigns. Ms Curran says it was a mistake to say the meeting was informal and unofficial. Jacinda Ardern says Ms Curran should have corrected her answer to the written question sooner, but has full confidence in the minister.

Clare Trevett: Clare Curran clumsy, foolish but PM won’t sack her

Curran has hardly covered herself in glory, but her actions fall short of the sackable offence of misleading the Prime Minister.

Curran’s actions were clumsy, stupid, naïve and arrogant, yes.

She should never have invited Hirschfeld to meet with her on that fateful morning – a meeting that was taking place just two days before her first meeting with the RNZ board.

She should have been more forthcoming about that meeting once asked, rather than leave the impression of a cover-up by having information dragged out under questioning by National MP Melissa Lee.

But Curran cannot be blamed for Hirschfeld’s resignation. According to RNZ’s chief executive Paul Thompson, Hirschfeld told her bosses more than once the meeting with Curran happened by coincidence rather than design.

That continued even after Curran’s office advised RNZ it was a pre-planned meeting.

But Curran had put Hirschfeld in a very difficult position.