Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act

Concerns of abuse of the Official Information Act by Government Ministers have been growing for years.

Last December: Clare Curran is planning a few shake-ups

Broadcasting aside, Curran has also been given the newly created role as the Minister in charge of ‘open government’.

Falling under her Associate State Services portfolio it’s a natural fit for Curran who during her years in opposition was a loud campaigner for greater transparency.

She repeatedly criticised the National-led coalition for refusing to improve government practice in the area and for gaming the Official Information Act (OIA).

But, of course, when the shoe is on the other foot those strong views can sometimes mellow.

Curran was apparently “half-hearted” when asked by the Otago Daily Times if she agreed the OIA was being manipulated for political purposes but is clearer now that it has happened in the past, but won’t in the future.

How can she be sure that a Labour Minister won’t do the same thing a year or two down the line, once they’re feeling more secure in their power?

“Through better processes and protocols being in place that we all sign up to and agree to. I don’t think it is being made to agree to it (formally), it’s about a will and getting things right.”

To push through this change, she and Justice Minister Andrew Little will review the Act and previous recommendations from the Law Commission and the Ombudsman and take a policy to Cabinet.

While the final result may not be a major legislative change, Curran is supportive of a former Labour Private Member’s Bill that called for the Ombudsman to be given the power to fine departments and Minister’s offices that inappropriately withheld information.

Real change will take time, she says, with a culture shift within the public service needed.

“To change the way that advice is provided, to the way in which it is released to the public, is not something that can be turned around overnight.

“It’s hugely frustrating, it means that people feel there’s a deliberate attempt to keep every piece of information withheld from public scrutiny. That is the thing that has to be turned around.”

But it now appears that no review of the OIA will happen.

NZ Council for Civil Liberties: Disappointment as Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act


Contrary to reporting last year, it seems that the Government currently has no plans to reform the Official Information Act.

At the time we wrote to Ministers Clare Curran and Andrew Little expressing our support for such a reform. We have finally had a response from Justice Minister Andrew Little that:

Although a review of the Official Information Act is not presently under consideration by the Government, such a review is possible at some point in the future.

Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Thomas Beagle says:

We’re very disappointed that the Government won’t be reforming the OIA, it’s a vital tool in holding governments to account. The OIA has been steadily weakened over the years by both changes in how government works, and gaming of the law by Ministers and public servants.

Among other things, the Council would like to see serious consideration given to:

  • Further encouragement for extensive pro-active publication of documents.
  • Removing commercial sensitivity as a ground for withholding information, particularly for outsourced government services.
  • Giving the Office of the Ombudsman more resources and powers to enforce the Act.
  • Restricting the use of the “legal privilege” grounds to times when matters are actually before a court.
  • Reducing Ministerial interference with OIA requests.

We believe that the Official Information Act does need substantive reform, and that the reform process should include significant public consultation and participation. “The Official Information Act needs to be updated so that it can continue to be used to deliver open and transparent government in service of our democracy. We call upon the Government to reconsider its position and start the OIA reform process now,” says Thomas Beagle.

Redacted document dump, closed communications by Open Government minister

Clare Curran has dumped a pile of documents related to the RNZ saga on journalists tonight.

ODT (NZME):  Curran releases information on RNZ saga

The office of Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran has released a raft of documents, text messages and other information, including a voicemail left on her phone by Radio New Zealand chairman Richard Griffin.

The documents, loaded on to the Beehive website late today, are Curran’s response to requests made under the Official Information Act in the wake of the resignation of RNZ’s former head of content Carol Hirschfeld.

The large wad of documents contained many redactions but no smoking gun.

It looks like the Minister of Open Government has closed down the barrel.

One text exchange, released today but with identifying information redacted, said: “If it comes up again the answer will be that it was arranged at short notice. It’s clear from talking to her that it was not spur of the moment.”

The response came back: “Can you send a copy of the staff announcement please.”

Today’s release of information includes a text from Curran following her voice mail which says: “Hi Richard I have left a voicemail message re a written correction to the select committee that is needed today. Can you please advise you have received the message and it can be done. Thanks.”

Griffin then left a message for Curran which said: “Good afternoon Minister I just picked up your call this morning, and your text. The fact is we agreed last … I agreed last Monday with the Chairman that we would appear … we have since requested such an action and on Tuesday amended the appearance date from 1 o’clock today to 9am next Thursday. I can only suggest you have a word with the Chair if necessary but, we’ve already got a signed deal with them to have it on 9 o’clock on Thursday and we’re taking legal advice … we took legal advice yesterday with Hugh Rennie QC so that’s where the situation is from my point of view. The same applies to the message I got from Paul James today. Call me back if you’ve got a problem. Cheers.”

Curran declined to comment this evening.

The Minister of Broadcasting and Minister of Open Government has closed down communications.

Labour, Green MPs block holding Curran to account

The Government that promised more openness and transparency has taken another step backwards, with Labour and Green MPs on the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee voting against asking Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran to appear before it to clarify unanswered questions about her meeting with ex-RNZ employee Carol Hirschfeld and her communications with RNZ chairman Richard Griffin.

NZH: National members blocked from getting Clare Curran to appear before committee over meeting with RNZ Carol Hirschfeld

National was blocked from asking Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran to appear at a select committee to clear up unanswered questions around her communications with former RNZ executive Carol Hirschfeld, a report says.

The Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee released its report
today on a briefing in which the committee was inadvertently misled by RNZ chairman Richard Griffin and chief executive Paul Thompson about a meeting between Curran and Hirschfeld last December.

A minority report by the five National Party members of the select committee said questions remained unanswered regarding the appropriateness of communications initiated by Curran, with Hirschfeld and Griffin.

Curran’s behaviour was potentially in breach of parliamentary standing orders covering “intimidating, preventing, or hindering a witness from giving evidence, or giving evidence in full, to the House or a committee”, the National members said.

The National members also sought to invite Curran to the committee to give her the opportunity to clear up the unanswered questions.

“Regretfully, this resolution was not supported by other members of the committee, once again leaving the matter unresolved.”

The National members of the committee – chairman Jonathan Young, Andrew Falloon, Paul Goldsmith, Melissa Lee and Parmjeet Parmar – said they felt Parliament itself had been impugned by the inadvertent misleading of the committee by RNZ and actions of the minister.

The MPs who blocked holding Curran to account:

  • Paul Eagle (Labour, Rongotai)
  • Tamati Coffey (Labour, Waiariki)
  • Michael Wood (Labour, Mt Roskill)
  • Deborah Russell (Labour, New Lynn)
  • Gareth Hughes (Greens, list)

Coffey had a surprise win against Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell in last year’s election.

Eagle, Wood and Russell scored fairly safe Labour electorates – Wood got into Parliament in a by-election in 2016 after Phil Goff resigned, while Eagle and Russell are first term MPs. Russell was rated as a good prospect as an MP, but she is putting party before principles here.

Hughes keeps a low profile in Parliament these days – Greens are also supposed to be strong supporters of open and transparent government and of holding the government to account (going by James Shaw’s comments in handing Parliamentary questions over to National) but joining the blocking of holding Curran to account suggests big talk, walk away from responsibilities.

Tn the whole scheme of things this isn’t a big deal, but it leaves a cloud over Curran’s ambitions to significantly boost RNZ, and she is likely to be reminded of this embarrassment whenever she tries to do anything on open government.

The final commitment in the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement:

20. Strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information.

Labour and Greens have weakened democracy through their weasel blocking in the committee.

Newsroom: When ‘open government’ becomes a joke

Curran isn’t just the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media but the Minster of Government Digital Services and Associate Minister for ACC and Open Government (via a State Services portfolio).

Open Government now becomes something of a joke under Curran at a time when we need it to be the very opposite.

What’s important now is RNZ and the many other initiatives Curran is involved with don’t keep on paying the price for her mistake. Curran’s copybook may well be blotted but she presides over portfolios that are far too important for us to allow that stain to spread.

That was on 2 April. Labour and Green MPs on the committee have spread the stain further.

Most of the public won’t know or care about this festering, but it remains hovering over Curran, and it is a confirmation that Labour and the Greens are in Government more for themselves than for integrity.

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.

Griffin had offered to resign, doesn’t want to stay at RNZ

As soon as Clare Curran was appointed Minister of Broadcasting chairman of RNZ Richard Griffin offered to resign, but she asked him to stay on ‘during the transition’.

Griffin has been chairman for nine years, three three year terms, but does not want to have a fourth. It is unlikely he would be offered another term anyway.

ODT (NZME): RNZ chairman offered resignation to Clare Curran

“I proffered my resignation to her the day she was appointed. I think it was the honourable thing to do,” Griffin told the Weekend Herald.

Curran, he said, was gracious and asked him to stay on during the transition to the new Labour Government.

“It’s no secret Clare and I aren’t exactly bosom buddies but I thought it was a reasonable thing to ask and I was happy to do so given that it was going to be a difficult time for all of us.

“But not quite as difficult as it has turned out to be.”

Griffin’s third term as chairman of the RNZ board finishes at the end of April, nine years in all. He doesn’t anticipate an invitation for a fourth, nor would he want one.

“No I would not,” he said emphatically. “I think I’ve run my course and I’m sure they do too.”

He said he was very embarrassed and at times was noticeably annoyed when questioned at the select committee meeting on Thursday, and his annoyance also comes through in an interview with the Sunday Herald.

His biggest regret of his nine years with RNZ? “The last few weeks.”

“I really regret that a great talent and an interesting woman is now having to suffer the slings and arrows. I’m sorry for her. I believe that Carol thought her loyalty to the Minister checkmated her loyalty to the company and I can understand how that could happen.

“I don’t know what possessed her and I don’t know what possessed the Minister. It’s such a pity.”

He has seemed reluctant to criticise but lets a bit out here, suggesting that Hirschfeld’s loyalty to Curran was why she kept lying. On Curran – “I don’t know what possessed the Minister”.

Griffin seems undecided on whether to hand over the recording of a phone call from Curran to him. This would clarify who is being straight on what Curran said to Griffin, and whether Curran tried to encourage Griffin not to appear before the committee.

The recording either clears Curran of trying to block Griffin’s appearance at the select committee to set the record straight on her meeting with Carol Hirschfeld or it could damn her if, as Griffin claims, she suggested it would be better for him not to appear and that a letter would suffice.

Griffin will spend this weekend at his home in Ruby Bay, west of Nelson, deciding whether to voluntarily hand over the voicemail on his mobile phone.

He had asked RNZ to retrieve the voicemail after it was requested by the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee following his and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson’s appearance on Thursday.

But even as efforts were being made to extract the voicemail, Griffin was reconsidering. He worried that refusing to hand over the recording could further damage RNZ but said there was nothing to be achieved by releasing it.

“I will decide over the weekend,” he said.

He seems torn between protecting RNZ’s reputation and causing more of a ruckus, but there is guaranteed to be more attention given to this tomorrow as media will wanting to know if he is going to voluntarily comply with the request to hand over the recording.

On Friday:

If Griffin doesn’t decide to hand it over he could be compelled to by the Speaker. Trevor Mallard has been involved in controversial situations involving Curran in the past:

Stuff: Whistleblower wins defamation appeal

The woman who accused Labour MP Trevor Mallard and a top public servant of destroying her reputation has won an appeal to the Supreme Court.

In 2007, whistleblower Erin Leigh accused Mallard, then Environment Minister, of defamation.

This was after she raised questions about political interference and alleged former minister David Parker pushed for Clare Curran to be appointed to a communications role with the Ministry.

All three Labour members involved are currently sitting Members of Parliament.

At the time Mallard was asked an oral question on the matter in Parliament and spoke negatively about Leigh.

He told the House she had “repeated competence issues” and said Curran had been appointed to “fix up the mess”.

That’s a long time ago, but is somewhat ironic in the present situation.

In its decision released today, the Supreme Court found Gow’s interaction to be covered by qualified privilege but said he could not face a defamation claim unless Leigh could prove he acted with ill-will.

“The issue is whether the public servant, or whoever else communicates information to the Minister, needs more than qualified privilege in order to enable the Minister, and the House as a whole, properly and efficiently to deal with parliamentary questions.”

The Court found that was not necessary and said it was a “no bad thing” that public servants were prevented from acting with ill-will when advising a minister.

“It is very much in the interests of the proper functioning of the House that those communicating with a Minister in present circumstances, whoever they are, have a disincentive against giving vent to ill will or improper purpose.”

Also ironic.

Stronger leadership required from Ardern as Government wobbles

It has been a wobbly few weeks for the Government, with problems and embarrassments involving all parties, Labour, NZ First and the Greens. A common factor is what looks like weak leadership from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has supported her own faltering MPs and dismissed problems from her support party ministers, saying mistakes will be made and they just need to be learnt from.

RNZ: Govt ‘will try to weed out mistakes’ – Ardern

Jacinda Ardern said mistakes will happen from time to time.

“With all of these cases they are, within context, issues that easily occur when you have an extraordinary amount of workflow coming through”.

“We will try to weed out mistakes wherever they may occur and prevent them from happening.”

“Ministers of all stripes make mistakes we’ve just got to make sure we correct them quickly.”

To an extent she is right, mistakes will happen and they need to be corrected – but too many mistakes are surfacing in a short period of time. The Government (and Ardern) risk an air of incompetence taking hold.

The most prominent mistake maker recently has been Clare Curran, who has featured in a lot of news for two weeks now. And it may not be the end of it yet, if RNZ’s Richard Griffin is forced to hand over a phone call recording.

ODT editorial: Fuller explanation needed from Curran

Ms Curran had nine years of Opposition in which to formulate her strategy in her much-beloved broadcasting and communications roles. Her role in open government and transparency was expected to pave the way for easier access to official information.

However, this has not been the case.

Ms Curran has survived in her job, despite at first not owning up to what was a planned, rather than casual, meeting.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accepted Ms Curran’s explanation she was not seeking to undermine the RNZ chairman Richard Griffin, a National Party appointee, or chief executive Paul Thompson.

New Zealanders are still in the dark about exactly what Ms Curran was planning.

It behoves Ms Curran to  set the full record straight. She seems to be hiding details, and a senior RNZ executive has resigned. Ms Ardern has been tolerant and could well have made an example of Ms Curran.

Unless she takes some firm action before she takes maternity leave, the situation may become even worse when NZ First leader Winston Peters takes over as prime minister in her absence.

The ODT also points out other problems:

Ms Ardern is being badly let down by those around her. Apart from Ms Curran, New Zealand First ministers Shane Jones and Ron Mark have been called to account for their comments or actions. The Green Party Minister for Women, Julie Ann Genter called for old white men to make way in boardrooms. And the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Dr Alan Freeth was called before a select committee to talk about his interactions with Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

More from Stuff’s Below the beltway: The week in politics

Down

Clare Curran

The Prime Minister is maintaining she is still confident in Curran, and to Curran’s credit she’s continued to front the media to discuss the ongoing RNZ saga. But calling board chair Richard Griffin – even if the call was as innocent as she claims – about his select committee appearance smacks of political interference. It was also a great way to give legs to a story that was beginning to die out.

Phil Twyford

Twyford is one of the more reliable ministers to deliver wins, but his big transport re-alignment was badly signalled and badly managed. By announcing the excise tax increase as “10c over three years” – instead of “3c a year for three years, just continuing what the last guys were doing” – he handed the opposition an easy attack line. Combining this news with the ambitious transport plan just meant the actual transport plan got lost in the conversation.

Eugenie Sage

Sage is another minister one doesn’t expect to see in trouble very often. But emailing the head of the crown entity a critical opinion piece about their chief scientist with the subject line “great article” is a good way to get yourself into trouble, especially if the opposition found out. Giving Nick Smith a chance to look good attacking you is quite an achievement.

Add to that the Young Labour camp sexual harassment allegations – any inquiry into that may be reported on while Ardern is off-duty, with it being likely the Party management will try to handle outside of the parliamentary wing.

So there are a lot of mistakes to be corrected – and there is no clear sign that that is happening. Ardern is increasingly looking like more talk than action.

As has been mentioned, she is planning on stepping aside in June for six weeks when she has her baby. That’s just two months away, with her government’s first budget due out in later May. A lot will be riding on how that is presented and how their spending plans shape up.

And there is no guarantee that the baby will wait until June. Ardern has a busy life, which raises risks of stress, pregnancy complications and possibly an early birth.

One would hope that a Prime Minister could step aside for any reason and the Government would keep functioning without any problems, but it’s hard to have confidence this will be the case.

Winston Peters will take over as Acting Prime Minister. He has been a problem for Ardern over his odd motives over Russia. Three of his MPs have featured in the wobbles – Ron Mark, Jenny Marcroft and especially Shane Jones, plus an unnamed Minister (alleged to be involved in the Marcroft incident). Peters has been just trivialising these problems.

There are more weaknesses in Labour below Ardern. Kelvin Davis has been virtually anonymous as deputy since he made a mess of supporting Ardern during the campaign last year. He also has to make what is likely to be an unpopular decision soon on a new prison to cope with growing numbers locked up.

Robertson will be busy before and after his first budget, and is yet to prove himself.

The only Labour MP I can think of with sufficient experience and credibility to step up is David Parker, and as Minister of Trade he spends a lot of his time travelling around the world.

So Labour and the Government are looking weak, almost out of their depth in turbulent water, and especially given the ongoing revelations of mistakes they are vulnerable to falling from favour.

Ardern needs to show some stronger leadership, and hope that in her absence not too many mistakes are made.

We may get through this ok, but at the moment the Government wobbles are looking worrying, with a real risk wheels may fall off.

 

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:

More Curran contact with RNZ a messy mistake at best

Clare Curran faced a barrage last week after Carol Hirschfeld resigned from RNZ as a result of of lying about a meeting that Curran had organised. Hirschfeld had assured her bosses several times it was a chance meeting, but Curran produced text records that showed that it had taken a month to arrange the meeting.

Now Curran is under fire again, this time for contacting chair of RNZ, Richard Griffin, over correcting the select committee record – with claims she tried to get him not to attend the scheduled meeting tomorrow.

It came up in Question Time yesterday, first with Simon Bridges questioning Jacinda Ardern.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know who directed Richard Griffin, chair of Radio New Zealand, to stay away from the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: My understanding is that when the Minister learnt that Radio New Zealand were unable to attend the original meeting they were scheduled to attend to correct the record around the breakfast meeting the Minister had, she sought to contact Radio New Zealand to find an alternative so that they could correct the record immediately.

Hon Simon Bridges: So is the Prime Minister’s understanding that Clare Curran told the chair of Radio New Zealand that he shouldn’t go to the select committee?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve just said, the Minister exchanged voice mails and text messages with the chair of Radio New Zealand, where I’m advised that she sought to have the record corrected immediately. Obviously, the fastest way to achieve that in lieu of attending that meeting would have been in writing.

It is unusual for the Minister to approach the RNZ chairperson to correct the Parliamentary record on it’s own, but there are questions about what Curran said. She was also questioned.

Melissa Lee: When she said in answer to oral question No. 12 on 29 November 2017 that this will “be the most open, most transparent Government [that] New Zealand has ever had”, is it open and transparent for the Minister if, as reported today, she or her office asked the chair of Radio New Zealand, Richard Griffin, not to attend the call-back select committee meeting scheduled for this Thursday to correct the records?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I reject the premise of that question. On learning that RNZ would not be appearing before the select committee last Thursday to correct the record at the earliest opportunity, and on advice from the office of the Leader of the House, I rang Mr Griffin last Thursday morning around 8.30 a.m. to advise him that it would be preferable to send a letter of correction that day before 1 p.m. rather than waiting until the following Thursday to appear in person. This was a voicemail message. I received a voicemail message from Mr Griffin at 3 p.m. that day to say that he had a prior agreement with the chair of the select committee to appear at the committee this Thursday and to call him back if I had a problem. I didn’t call him back.

But more from Newstalk ZB – Exclusive: RNZ chair to ignore Govt directive over notorious meeting

The chair of Radio New Zealand’s set to ignore a Government directive and attend a Parliamentary committee to set the record straight about the notorious meeting Minister Clare Curran had with the now former head of content at the state broadcaster.

Newstalk ZB Political editor Barry Soper understands Richard Griffin was directed to stay away from the committee, and was instead told to write a letter apologising for misleading the committee.

Griffin would not say who made the suggestion that he instead write a letter of apology to the committee, but  Soper says that it was Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.

The phone message Curran left may or may not be made public tomorrow. if not it is a ‘he reported, she said’ sort of situation.

RNZ followed up: Curran says RNZ board should correct record asap

Ms Curran said what she said was that if he could not appear in person, the record could be corrected with a letter.

“I thought it was really important that given the state of affairs around this particular issue that the record be corrected as soon as possible, if he was unable to attend in person last week then a letter could have been sent to the select committee and that was what my advice was.”

Ms Curran told Parliament she left that message on Richard Griffin’s voicemail.

She said she later received a voice message from Mr Griffin saying he was instead attending the committee Thursday this week, and if she had a problem with that to let him know.

Ms Curran was acting on advice from the office of the Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins, when she contacted Mr Griffin about making a corrected statement.

Curran may not have done anything particularly wrong, depending on what she actually told Griffin, but this looks messy from a bunch of amateurs.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would have been preferable for someone other than the Broadcasting Minister to have contacted the RNZ board chair, given the circumstances of last week.

“Even though she certainly advised me her intent was to pass on a message about correcting the record directly to the chair, there are indeed multiple ways she could have done that,” Ms Ardern said.

But it would have been “cleaner” to have had someone from the select committee office or the Leader of the House to pass on the message, she said.

It certainly would have looked better.

“Ultimately though the minister’s focus was on getting the record corrected, it’s something she’d been criticised for in the past.”

Ms Curran left the matter alone once she found out the RNZ chief executive and board chair had been scheduled to reappear at the committee this Thursday, Ms Ardern said.

Tracy Watkins at Stuff: Labour’s new strategy – bury bad news in more bad news

Curran left a message on Griffin’s phone suggesting he send a letter to the select committee, rather than answer its recall in person.

It would suit Curran and the Government not to have Griffin front in person to answer questions – which is why Curran should never have made the call.

If the voicemail contradicts her version of events Ardern will have an excuse to sack her.

Ardern on RNZ – says she has confidence in Curran, says Curran made a mistake contacting Griffin, but it wasn’t a sackable offence.

Curran claims RNZ+ television channel still on track

While Minister of Broadcasting Clare Curran couldn’t confirm funding – this year’s budget is still under consideration – she said yesterday that Labour’s RNZ+ policy that includes a free-to-air television channel is still on track, albeit as an ‘evolution’ at some time in the future.

At this stage RNZ+ remains a policy wish rather than a confirmed reality.

There have been claims that Curran’s aims and preferences of the RNZ board are at odds, but Curran denies this.

On Q&A yesterday: (regarding Curran’s controversial meeting with Carol Hirschfeld)

Corrin Dann: The problem is here Minister is that we’ve got a situation where we know that the CEO of RNZ and the board chairman had expressed some concerns about your plans for RNZ+ being a full linear TV station, and I guess we could take the impression that you were trying to find someone at RNZ that perhaps had a different view, that you were looking to undermine the board.

Clare Curran: Well that impression is completely false, and there have been very positive discussions between myself, the chair, the CEO, and the board itself on the progression of the Government’s priorities. So you know that is completely false.

It isn’t clear from this whether Curran was saying that all of Dann’s ‘impression’ was completely false, or that she was just referring to “you were looking to undermine the board”.

But there do seem to be some differences of opinion over the TV station. RNZ –  Top level turbulence at RNZ and the Beehive:

After she was appointed broadcasting and digital media minister, Clare Curran told Mediawatch she wanted to see a comprehensive and commercial-free TV channel run by RNZ out of the $38 million Labour’s policy had pledged to boost public broadcasting.

RNZ’s chief executive and chair have both stated publicly since then they don’t favour that option and preferred to use any extra investment to expand multi-media content for several digital platforms.

And back in January – No need to fear us: RNZ (Newsroom):

A big part of his strategy has been to move closer to the commercial broadcasters and not alienate them like his predecessor did.

“Our job is not to go head to head with the TV guys, we want to do things that commercial players won’t do,” Thompson told Newsroom. 

“We are not going to re-create TVNZ 6 or 7 (public service channels that were shut down in 2012). We are a multi-media organisation and TV will be a part of what we do, like radio and digital are. Some of our programmes are already on the screen and we will be able to do more of that (with the extra money).”

Back to Q&A, on funding Curran says that “there’s a lot of things up in the air”.

Corrin Dann: Will the RNZ rollout and the money and the budget process be affected by what has happened this week?

Clare Curran: I don’t believe so, but I would also make that point that we’re in a budget process, and so that there’s a lot of things up in the air.No matter which minister you had on today you’d probably get that response.

Corrin Dann: What is the actual process in terms of money for RNZ this budget? Are they potentially in line for twenty or thirty million dollars or not?

Clare Curran: Well I can’t answer that because we’re in the last stages of a budget process. There is a plan in place to evolve RNZ to become RNZ+. Also to invest in NZ on Air so that there is more New Zealand content made available across the media spectrum. But also to turn RNZ into a more evolved multi media entity. That plan has not changed.

But if that evolution includes a full linear television channel substantial funds will be required.

Clare Curran: The quantum of the investment in this budget cycle is still unclear because we’re still in that process.

Corrin Dann: So they may not get thirty eight million dollars?

Clare Curran: I can’t comment on that because we’re in a budget process and we’re not, ask me in a few weeks.

Corrin Dann: What I can ask you is are you sticking to the view which you’ve expressed numerous times, that there’s going to be a linear free-to-air non commercial TV station run by Radio NZ?

Clare Curran: So that is in the policy that was released before the election. That is ultimately part of the longer term intention. Getting there is what I’m calling an evolution, an evolution of RNZ to become RNZ+.

It would be a major step to set up a TV channel, and it would be quite costly. It sounds like it is a wish rather than an imminent reality.

Corrin Dann: How long does that take?

Clare Curran: I can’t answer that either. I put in place, we’re five months into government, this is the biggest investment and concept around media in New Zealand for a long time, which has been starved of funding in an environment where it hasn’t been valued.

I’ve put in place an interim media advisory committee to provide advice to the Government on how any division of money should occur, but also how a permanent commission could offer quality advice to the Government in the long term. So it’s still too early to say.

Corrin Dann: So an evolution. Some years.  Do you still want a stand alone TV station that will effectively be in competition with TVNZ, Mediaworks and everyone else. Eventually.

Clare Curran: Um well ‘in competition’ is a curious way to put it…we’re talking about non-commercial television which we don’t have in New Zealand.

What about Maori television?

Corrin Dann: Will there be a non commercial TV station? Will there be a TV station one day?

Clare Curran: Yes. That is, well, don’t forget we have digital media, so we already have audio-visual happening with RNZ. It is not adequate. It needs to improve.

Corrin Dann: So does it need to be on a linear platform though, so people can go to the TV channel?

I presume that means broadcast type viewing rather than on demand.

Clare Curran: That is the intention in the longer term, yes.

Corrin Dann: So you’ve got a problem though don’t you? The current chair od Radio New Zealand, and the CEO have expressed some concerns about that, they don’t see a fast evolution to that, from the language that’s certainly been reported.

Clare Curran: So um the ah can I just reassure you and the listeners that there is no division between RNZ and the Minister on this issue. There is an acknowledgement that evolving RNZ into RNZ+ is going to take time, and the focus will be on moving the platforms multimedia in a gradual way depending on how much money is available to do it.

It’s going to take time. I just urge everybody to hold your horses and wait for the evolution of those plans to start to unfold.

So Curran has confirmed:

  • She still wants a non-commercial broadcast/digital television station as part of RNZ+ ‘evolution’.

But she can’t confirm:

  • What funding will be available in next month’s budget or in the future.
  • When a TV station might climb down from the RNZ tree and walk, albeit aided.

What I’d like explored more is whether a television channel is the best approach, given that on demand services like Netflix are growing while broadcast type models like TVNZ, TV3 and Sky are struggling to keep their old style models alive and thriving.

Labour’s policy related to RNZ:

Labour will:

  • Transform Radio New Zealand into RNZ+, a truly multi-platform provider dedicated to quality New Zealand programming and journalism, including a free-to-air non-commercial television service
  • Provide $38m a year in additional funding for quality New Zealand programming and journalism, independently apportioned between RNZ+ and NZ On Air. NZOA could use this funding for content promoting New Zealand’s national identity or investigative journalism

More than a share of $38 million may be necessary to set up and operate a full non-commercial television service.

 

 

 

Q&A: Curran and RNZ

Clare Curran fronts up this morning to explain her meeting with Carol Hirschfeld, and presumably her aims with publicly funded television and RNZ.

Corrin Dann says that this interview was arranged before the RNZ story broke this week.

Curran stuck to her guns and defended her initiating the meeting with Hirschfeld. I think she did fairly well.