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.

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.


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.

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?


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?


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 Spinoff and RNZ “sharing our journalism” – and also sponsors?

There were some heated exchanges on Twitter last night over a just announced arrangement between RNZ and The Spinoff to share news – “we’ll be sharing our journalism”, but there are issues over whether RNZ are also sharing The Spinoff’s sponsorship and advertising.

RNZ is a long serving non-commercial Government funded media organisation based on radio, but with a growing online presence.

The Spinoff is a a relatively new online media enterprise which relies on sponsorship for funding. They have just launched a premium prescription service – “the best stories from around the NZ media hitting your inbox at 7 am weekdays”. That sounds similar to a service Bryce Edwards has provided free for several years.

Yesterday (12 March) RNZ announced RNZ and The Spinoff announce content partnership:

RNZ and The Spinoff are delighted to announce we’ll be sharing our journalism.

Under the arrangement material from will appear on and vice versa.

The new arrangement maintains RNZ’s policy of sharing content with media partners and extends to 16 the number of agreements in place with a range of media organisations.

Glen Scanlon, RNZ’s head of digital, said The Spinoff team had blazed a path for independent websites and the partnership extended RNZ’s proactive approach to make news and information available to more New Zealanders.

“The Spinoff is the source of some of New Zealand’s wittiest, and well-thought, journalism and we’re very much looking forward to being able to feature it.

“Duncan Greive and his team are a creative force, and they have helped bring issues to the forefront of people’s minds in many new ways.”

Greive, The Spinoff’s managing editor, said he was “extremely stoked to be entering a partnership with RNZ”.

“It’s an organisation we admire immensely. The work it does feels thoughtful, urgent and agenda-setting, and we’re privileged to be able to share it with our audience.

“We’re particularly happy that we were able to design a pioneering relationship for RNZ – one which sees our work available for syndication on their sites, as well as theirs on ours. It’s our way of supporting a cultural and journalistic giant which does so much to sustain the rest of our media.”

The Spinoff made their own announcement, quoting from the media release and trying to add some humour: Spinoff and RNZ announce conscious coupling

The juggernaut of quality New Zealand journalism is teaming up with friendly local website The Spinoff, it was announced today to nil fanfare.

According to a media release from RNZ, both parties are delighted about the arrangement, which provides that “material from will appear on and vice versa” and “maintains RNZ’s policy of sharing content with media partners and extends to 16 the number of agreements in place with a range of media organisations”.

“Sixteen seems a lot,” said one unnamed source at The Spinoff. “Are there even 16 media organisations in New Zealand?”

According to Spinoff sources, staff were excited about adding more top RNZ content to their website, but more importantly they were motivated by the opportunity to get a mention from New Zealand’s most consistently funny parody Twitter account.

A story shared yesterday led to a heated exchange on Twitter last night.

The original article was posted on The Spinoff on 7 March: 30% cheaper to build and pre-consented: is this a solution to the housing crisis?

An old cigarette factory in Masterton, a remnant from the Think Big era, has been re-purposed to tackle our affordable housing crisis. Rebecca Stevenson caught up with builder Mike Fox to find out how a plant in the Wairarapa is producing modular, kitset homes on the cheap.

That is from Rebecca Stevenson, and looks almost like an advertorial for a house building company, but there is no suggestion it was paid for publicity. However like other Spinoff stories, it has a sponsorship message:

The Spinoff’s business content is brought to you by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.

Check out how Kiwibank can help your business take the next step.

That’s how The Spinoff pay their wages and bills, and it is open disclosure – similar to commercial TV stations have sponsors associated with programmes or news segments like business news and the weather.

On 9 March RNZ republished this article – note that this is prior to them announcing their sharing arrangement with The Spinoff. They acknowledged at the end of the article:

This article was first published on The Spinoff

Bryce Edwards got suggested potential problems with this approach for RNZ, and was confronted by Duncan Grieve from The Spinoff:

Touchy from Grieve. I thought the Spinoff article read like an advetorial too, and that was before reading Edwards’ tweets.

Toby Manhire (from The Spinoff) also seemed aggrieved:

It may have not been paid content on The Spinoff (just openly sponsored), but it is odd content for RNZ to choose to share.

Remember that The Spinoff has just launched a subscription service that sounds similar to Edwards’ free daily round up.

Another Twitter exchange on the topic:

@GeoffMillerNZ – and have announced content-sharing deal. Seems fairly dodgy from RNZ’s perspective, given much of Spinoff’s content sponsored by corporates/PR. You can’t spell “Spinoff” without “spin”

@DCohenNZ – I support what RNZ is doing with content sharing. It’s one of a number of impressive decisions that have been taken on the watch of . Whether other participating media have a “spin” (or political tilt) isn’t important as long as the RNZ content is used extant.

@fundypost (Paul Litterick) – My concern is the problems arising from RNZ taking The Spinoff’s content. The Spinoff runs on sponsorship. It also has an ideological slant.

@GeoffMillerNZ – What’s different about this deal is that RNZ for the first time is reproducing another outlet’s content. Other content-sharing deals were one-way, i.e. other outlets paid a nominal fee to use RNZ content, but the arrangement was not reciprocal.

@DCohenNZ – So the question will be what content is used. Presumably, there will be vetting. The concern you raise is reasonable, but my point is about the need for new ways of thinking about the ongoing good health of media (which I’m sure we both agree is important).

@GeoffMillerNZ – Agree on your last point David, the question is how we get there. As it stands we have RNZ republishing sponsored content without even the disclosure that the Spinoff provides (e.g. see the housing article today, sponsored by Kiwibank but no mention of this on RNZ).

@zigzagger2 (John Drinnan) – In which case RNZ was smart enough to remove the mention because it would undermine the story, but loose enough that it did not see the sponsorshp an issue for the state broadcaster,

@GeoffMillerNZ – Exactly – they are in an unsolvable bind here. Provide disclosure and it’s free advertising for sponsors on RNZ, don’t provide it and it’s arguably even worse. Hence why the deal should not have been agreed to in the first place.

@fundypost – RNZ does not need to trade. It produces high-quality stuff that other broadcasters want. Why should RNZ want anything from the Spinoff; what does it do that RNZ cannot do?

@GeoffMillerNZ – Exactly. Content needs to be paid for somehow, so I am not totally against the sponsorship models The Spinoff and Newsroom are pursuing (although still problematic). But RNZ gets public money (& more under Labour) precisely to stay out of this murky area. So why go there?

I suspect that RNZ will be somewhat more careful about what content they share from The Spinoff – the housing article was a very strange choice and I think poor choice, republished before the sharing arrangement was announced.

It appears to be the only article republished at RNZ so far (as indicated by a site search of ‘The Spinoff’).

But the links to sponsored news publications (along with advertising) remains a problem for RNZ.



RNZ soft sop on political conflicts of interest

RNZ were embarrassed on Thursday when it was revealed in Parliament that ‘contractor’ Tracey Bridges, who was engaged by Ministerial Services in Jacinda Ardern’s office, had commented on ‘The Panel’ without disclosure. RNZ made a soft concession that it didn’t look good:

“It is a timely reminder for RNZ that we need to be fully transparent about any potential conflicts of interest. We are reviewing our processes around The Panel to make this sure this doesn’t happen again.”

– see Labour and RNZ exposed using ministerial staffer “as an independent commentator”.

Yesterday RNZ followed up with a sop to Bridges and to another political lobbyist who had come under scrutiny for potential conflicts of interest, Gordon Jon Thompson.

Jane Patterson at RNZ: Commentator welcomes conflict of interest debate

A PR contractor, whose position in the Prime Minister’s office prompted questions in Parliament, says discussions about conflicts of interest are important, and she welcomes questions about how they are handled.

National MP Melissa Lee raised questions about Tracey Bridges appearing on RNZ as a commentator, without it being made clear she had a contract to work in the office of Jacinda Ardern at the time.

In response to that story, Ms Bridges said she had told RNZ she was an independent contractor, but the news organisation had not asked for any details about individual clients, nor had she offered them.

While it should be standard practice for RNZ to insist on full disclosure Bridges also had a responsibility to disclose any possible conflict of interest.

RNZ went back to Ms Bridges and asked her for details about how her potential conflicts of interest are managed more broadly.

She said she identified and declared any of her other clients who could potentially pose a conflict of interest to the Prime Minister’s office, and then managed any conflicts if and when they arose from there on.

Ms Bridges said she did the same with her other clients.

Her work focussed on strategy, leadership and mentoring, she said, and her work in the PM’s office was “consistent with that space”.

It was very important to her to respect the confidentiality of all of her clients and so there was “no flow of information” between the different groups, Ms Bridges said.

Bridges stated “she welcomes questions” but has not faced any questions here, she has been given a free PR platform. This sounds like a sop to Bridges by Patterson, RNZ’s political editor.

Gordon Jon Thompson worked in the PM’s office as Chief of Staff immediately after the election, and has since returned to his corporate affairs consultancy company, Thompson Lewis, that specialises in government relations.

He said the day he signed his contract to work in the PM’s office he declared his interest in his company to Ministerial Services.

Mr Thompson said that in recognition of potential conflicts of interest, he had signed a document saying he would be taking a leave of absence from his company while Chief of Staff and he would not receive any money from Thompson Lewis during that time.

The situation relating to conflicts of interest was “handled well”, he said.

Another PR sop, this time to Thompson. He has been allowed to claim he “handled well” the situation relating to conflicts of interest without question.

I think that it’s fair to question what Patterson’s historic and current relationship with bridges and Thompson is.

And it’s fair to question the way she and RNZ have handled this issue. It raises more questions about conflicts of interest than it answers.

NOTE: This is on matters of principle, but it seems that Bridges did not talk politics on The Panel, she talked about what a big deal it is to her that her daughter is going away to University for the year, about Bob Jones’ controversial Waitangi Day column (she said he had a right to waffle), and allergies in movies – Audio of The Panel on 12 February.

However she did close with:

“I’m probably sitting in a position where I’m feeling a little bit sick of racist old men having platforms”.

Update: there’s more audio of The Panel scattered across RNZ:

I haven’t got time to listen to all that right now.

Inconclusive report on income/wealth gap

Oxfam are releasing a report today on the wealth gap in New Zealand. but it’s not clear what point they are trying to make.

RNZ: One percent of the population, 30 percent of the wealth

New Oxfam research shows the richest one percent of New Zealanders earned 28 percent of all the wealth created last year.

The research shows that the 1.4 million people who make up the poorest 30 percent of the population barely got one percent of the national growth in wealth.

The interview of Rachel le Mesurier didn’t really clear up confusion over income and wealth in the interview:

It’s worth listening to the interview to see how headline grabbing but vague this publicity is. Guyon Espiner asked le Mesurier what point they were trying to make and what solutions they were suggesting, but all she really did was intimate having a lot of wealth was bad and poor people were poor. She did talk vaguely about the tax working group doing something about things.

The charity’s executive director, Rachel le Mesurier, said the level of inequality in the past two years had remained the same.

“All around the world there has been a significant shift [of] wealth, particularly around property, and that’s something that many New Zealanders will be familiar with.

“In many cases … people have become wealthier with actually not having to work very hard for it … This is not fair, we should be rewarding work and not wealth.”

Ms le Mesurier told Morning Report the gap between the extremely rich and the rest of the population was unacceptable.

“The poorest proportion of our society really gained no extra benefit from that new wealth last year.”

“One of the reasons [the gap has increased] is property prices … but there are others.”

So forcing property prices down would close the ‘gap’, but how could it actually help poorer people?

Espiner asked her what would change if the wealth of the wealthiest New Zealander was redistributed and she diidn’t have much to say about it.

“We’ve got a tax working group. We’re very keen for New Zealand to have a conversation about tax – what is fair tax, what is balanced tax?

“A good number of [global] billionaires don’t necessarily work hard … Two-thirds of them have either been to build on their inheritance, they’ve actually got a monopoly.”

I’m not sure how the tax working group can recommend changes that will ensure those who work the hardest are taxed the least.