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.

 

Key questions on publicly funded ‘broadcasting’

Stuff reports on John Key talking about publicly funded broadcasting, asking Would people watch publicly funded broadcast TV?

He said it was unclear whether there would be enough demand for a public broadcaster in New Zealand, similar to the ABC or BBC.

“I mean I don’t know do you set up a public public broadcaster on television? Could you get enough people to watch it?”

Key said he suspected the review of Campbell Live was linked to the audience’s changing viewing habits.

“The real issue is the way we take news is changing. It’s not just news on the radio any more, it’s on your Facebook feed, it’s on your Twitter feed, it’s on all these websites. So when you sit down to watch the news, the question is at 6 o’clock at night is ‘is it news?’.

“I just wonder whether that’s the issue, capturing their imagination in a busy world.

“I just wonder whether people get to 7 o’clock and want to zone out on stuff. I don’t know but I assume that’s why stations are responding the way they are.”

One doesn’t need to be an acquaintance of Mark Weldon to come up with obvious possibilities like that.

Also on Stuff Paul Thompson opines in Audiences will dictate the changing face of news and current affairs.

(Thompson is chief executive of Radio New Zealand and former executive editor of Fairfax Media.)

So, it is pleasing to see broadcasting finally get its moment in the sun in the wake of MediaWorks’ decision to review the Campbell Live programme.

Suddenly, petitions have been launched to save the embattled programme.

There has been handwringing and fevered discussion and politicians of all stripes have waded in.

Some would have us believe that John Campbell was the last bastion of free speech and holding government to account in New Zealand. But Thompson looks a bit further than Campbell Live.

The real problem is not the likely demise of a crusading TV programme fronted by a passionate journalist, which is losing a ratings war.

Broadcasters and programmes – and styles of programming – will always come and go in the cut-throat world of New Zealand commercial broadcasting.

Instead, attention should focus on the seismic change that is shaking every media organisation, particularly those which rely on advertising revenue.

Campbell Live‘s vulnerability is a symptom of a wider struggle.

Advertising revenues across all forms of media are under duress as audiences revel in the choice, freedom and ease of access and interaction provided by the web.

So traditional media is failing to adapt quickly enough to a rapidly evolving media landscape.

All media outlets are trying their best to adapt, even if that means large and durable businesses are being replaced by smaller more vulnerable ones.

And they seem to be fighting a losing battle.

The underlying issue is understanding the impact of this upheaval on the quality, range and depth of journalism.

It is a mixed picture.

In many ways this is a golden age for journalism as the craft unleashes the story-telling and interactive potency of the web.

In time new forms of innovation will emerge that fuse this potency with robust business models.

But that is way off yet and in the meantime journalism is in choppy waters. This matters.

Perhaps now considerable experience has been built up in alternate media and alternate journalism a fresh approach could be taken – learning from the old but embracing the new.

Which brings me back to the role of broadcasting policy, and specifically Radio New Zealand, in this changing world.

Radio New Zealand plays a privileged and pivotal role in that we are publicly funded to provide credible, independent news, current affairs and cultural programming that are insulated from the commercial pressures that beset the wider news industry.

We have always played this important role and the events and trends which are currently the focus of such concern means we have an even more crucial part to play in future.

Radio New Zealand, the country’s last remaining public service media organisation, is determined to be a positive force in this new era. We will continue to provide comprehensive, searching journalism and to get it to as many people as possible.

So we have public broadcasting. We just don’t have a big investigative presence on television. Perhaps that’s not the best medium for it now. Key could be right, television is evolving more towards entertainment, where there is better revenue potential.

It is no longer sufficient to look in isolation at radio, television, online and print and to think it is possible to shore up the old models which are under such strain.

A new, converged world is emerging, one in which audiences are in command, and that requires new thinking.

The problem is with a radio medium or a newspaper medium or a television medium trying to be all things in multi-media.

The Paul Henry Show is the latest attempt to cross the forms – it is trying to be a concurrent television and radio show with social media tacked on.

What I think we need is a fresh approach looking at the whole.

This could pick up on experience in social media – but the problem with the major forums in social media is they have been dominated by partisan interests wanting to control the message so they can somehow control politics.

That has also proven to be a failure. You just have to look at where Whale Oil, The Standard, The Daily Blog and to an extent Kiwiblog have gone. And Red Alert. They have all established sizeable audiences, relative to others, but they are small niches that most of the public know nothing about.

They overplay their perceived power and self destruct as credible media sources and open forums.

I think there are ways it could be done. And public funding may be the way to achieve it. Compared to television and to radio it could be done relatively cheaply.

I think a media umbrella could harness the potential across all media, gathering the best of public broadcasting, commercial radio, television, print and web plus building citizen journalism.

This would need to be politically independent, and would preferably be commercially independent.

Would John Key consider providing public funding for a new way of harnessing the many facets of modern media?

New Zealand is small enough to make this work. If there is a political will to provide it.

It should use the expertise of current public and commercial media, without being dominated by one. Plus the new wave of online media, which could provide the umbrella.

Fairfax face factless feckless Peters

Fairfax have challenged allegations made by Winston Peters and warn of a “witch hunt”

The previous post Double standard with Peters and Norman points out that Winston Peters gets a lot of leeway from media, who sometimes aid and abet his attack politics.

But Peters has threatened one of the fundamentals of journalism – protecting sources.

He wants the police, or John Key, or the Privileges Committee (depending on his target at the time) to compel Peter Dunne to hand over evidence that bizarrely Peters says he has copies of.

Fairfax are fighting back, calling Winston on his bluff and bluster.

Attempts to get reporter’s emails ‘will be fought’

Fairfax Media will resist any attempt to force it to release private communication between its journalist and UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne.

Fairfax Group executive editor Paul Thompson said politicians should tread carefully before embarking on a witch hunt. That could have a chilling effect on how journalists covered politicians.

Fairfax would protect the communications between its journalists and any contacts, regardless of whether they were the source of sensitive information or not.

“The protection of our sources is paramount,” Thompson said.

“We will resist any attempt to force us to release that sort of information.

“It’s the most fundamental commitment we make to our sources. We will go as far as we need to to protect that information.”

The relationship between journalists and their sources was not just about “getting a great scoop for a newspaper” he said.

“It’s about keeping the public informed.

“We can’t trust the Government or officialdom to always tell us the truth. It’s about preserving the right of journalists to work in the way they need to work.”

I would expect strong support for this stance from other media and from many political commentators and bloggers.

And Thompson also strongly rejects one of Peters’ allegations.

On Firstline:

Rachel:  Was there anything in those emails that was potentially personally embarrassing to Mr Dunne?

Winston:  Yes.

And on Q+A:

CORIN So can you just give us a sense of the nature of what you’ve seen and you’ve claimed to have seen in these emails? Is it.. how does it.. what does it show about the nature of the relationship between Andrea Vance and Peter Dunne? Do you think Peter Dunne was acting in an appropriate way?

WINSTON No.

CORIN In what way?

WINSTON Well, I don’t want to, you know, go down that path. It doesn’t-

CORIN Because Peter Dunne says he was absolutely professional, that this was simply just a case of a journalist talking to an MP. Are you saying that’s something different?

WINSTON Sadly, that statement is not true.

CORIN What evidence have you got to back that up?

WINSTON Sad for his staff as well, but, sadly, that statement’s not true.

CORIN Have you got evidence to back that up?

WINSTON Yes.

CORIN What is it?

WINSTON Well, again, I never have pursued that path.

And…

CORIN Why do you think he did leak it, if that’s the case?

WINSTON In a phrase – there’s no fool like an old fool.

CORIN What does that mean?

WINSTON You know what it means.

CORIN No, no, tell me.

WINSTON Well, I’ll leave it to you. I’m not going to head down that salacious path, but there’s no fool like an old fool.

Clear implications and accusations, all without any evidence – in fact without any admission of any specific evidence.

Thompson also rejected suggestions there was more to the relationship between Dunne and Vance.

NZ First leader Winston Peters has claimed to see emails that were personally embarrassing but Thompson said Fairfax was “absolutely” backing Vance.

This is a direct challenge to Peters’ bluster. In the presence of a strong denial and the absence of evidence it must be assumed that Peters is making things up.

Has Peters produced any evidence at all to back any of his accusations?

Winston NO

If Peters can’t put up any evidence one must assume he has been lying about having it.

 

Fairfax leaked or Peters is lying

Someone leaked information about Peter Dunne to Winston Peters. That information was probably nowhere near as substantial as Peters is trying to portray – for example, in Parliament over the past two weeks Peters claimed the evidence was all in the phone records, but as soon as the Henry report came out he switched to intimating he had seen incriminating emails, because the report had details only on emails.

But obviously someone leaked to Peters. There are some very unlikely sources, like Peter Dunne, the GCSB, someone within parliamentary IT or a hacker. But there is as evidence much pointing to the source as there is linking Dunne to the Kitteridge leak.

Peters clearly indicates he got information from a journalist, as a Friday interview on Radio NZ shows:

Peters: I saw sufficient electronic records to know what I was talking about.

Watson: Where did you get them from?

Peters: Well that doesn’t matter really.

Watson: Well, it would be interesting to know though.

Peters: Ah, I’d never ask a journalist for their source because it’s a matter of professional integrity, you can’t disclose it otherwise you’ll never get any more information, and nor can I.

There is no proof Peters has seen emails, he won’t answer directly about that, he allows journalists to make statements for him and he answers vaguely – but doesn’t refute or deny. So he tacitly claims to have seen incriminating emails.

Whether Peters has seen emails or not, he has been fed sufficient certainty to launch a sustained attack on Dunne. A journalist from Fairfax would almost certainly be his source. This is despite continued Fairfax claims of secrecy. NZ Herald reports:

Asked if Dunne leaked stories to Vance, Fairfax executive editor Paul Thompson said: “We never talk about our confidential sources. I have no comment whatsoever to make, we won’t be going anywhere near that.”

But someone appears to have talked. Confidential sources may find it very hard to have any confidence in Fairfax.

In a column today Colin Espiner says:

Even though I also work for Fairfax I have absolutely no idea who Andrea Vance’s sources for her story were – journalists protect sources absolutely, and wouldn’t tell their own mother or partner let alone their editor or a colleague.

If Winston Peters isn’t lying then Espiner looks to be promoting a journalist lie – sources at Fairfax haven’t been protected. And it isn’t difficult to work out from this who must have some responsibility.

Someone has broken supposedly strict confidentiality knowing it is likely to end the career of New Zealand’s longest serving MP.

That can’t just be swept under the political/journalist rug.

Fairfax leave Dunne out in the cold

Peter Dunne has been cold shouldered by Fairfax.

In his media statement on resigning yesterday Dunne said:

“While I did not leak the report, and challenge Fairfax to confirm that, some of my actions after I received an advance copy of the report were extremely unwise and lacked the judgement reasonably expected of a Minister in such circumstances.

Fairfax have indicated via The Dominion Post that they won’t be helping in an ironically titled Peter Dunne: Out in the cold:

Fairfax Media executive editor Paul Thompson said the company had no comment on the Henry report, and would never comment on confidential sources.

“This story was an excellent scoop by our reporter and was handled with the utmost professionalism by the Fairfax team.”

That doesn’t rule out confirming or denying that Dunne was the leaker but suggests they aren’t going to help him out. It would be simple for Fairfax to say they don’t dispute Dunne’s claim without jeopardising source confidentiality – Dunne has effectively waived confidentiality – but at this stage they are not doing anything to help him.