It is very unwise for the Minister of Broadcasting to have breakfast with the head of news for Radio New Zealand – especially as the Minister is proposing to give Radio New Zealand millions more in funding.
The Minister should only meet the Chair and/or the Chief Executive. To directly interface with someone who has editorial control of news reporting is unwise. As far as I know no previous Minister has met with news editors, except with CEs present.
Also meetings to discuss portfolio issues should be with staff present, so a record is kept of what is said. A private meeting between a Minister and a news director is unwise – especially one owned by the state and one the Minister is promising lots more money for.
I thought it would be useful to unpick different threads of this issue.
- Was it wrong for Carol Hirschfeld to meet with Clare Curran?
- Was it wrong for Clare Curran to meet with Carol Hirschfeld?
- Was it a chance encounter or an arranged meeting?
- Was it an official or unofficial meeting?
- Why did Curran only use initials for Hirschfeld in her ministerial diary?
- Why did Curran omit the mention of the meeting in written questions?
- Why did Hirschfeld lie on multiple occasions about the nature of the meeting
- Why did Curran’s office only contact Radio NZ, but not correct the public record?
Was it wrong for Carol Hirschfeld to meet with Clare Curran?
Yes. It undermined her CEO and Board Chair. Staff in a government organisation don’t have private meetings with the Minister without the permission or knowledge of their CEO.
It seems highly likely this was not a one off meeting. The texts imply they have met regularly.
How often had they met one on one when Curran was Opposition Broadcasting Spokesperson? Did the idea for RNZ+ doing television come from Hirschfeld, and got picked up by Curran? If so, then you have the head of news for a state broadcaster involved in developing policy for the opposition.
Was it wrong for Clare Curran to meet with Carol Hirschfeld?
Once she was Minister, yes.
Firstly for the reason that it undermines the Board and CEO of Radio NZ to be having private meetings with their news director. Especially as it seems they were discussing Radio NZ issues.
Secondly because Radio NZ is meant to be editorially independent. Having the news director in private secret meetings with the Minister is a huge conflict of interest. Especially with the Minister saying they want to give Radio NZ an extra $30 million a year. As no officials were present, who knows what assurances may have been sought or given about what Radio NZ would do in return for the money. Maybe replace Guyon Espiner with Bomber Bradbury on Morning Report (obviously not that, but the point is the news director has huge influence on who works at Radio NZ, and the editorial direction).
The Cabinet Manual (s3.81) 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.”
Was it a chance encounter or an arranged meeting?
It was arranged, at the initiative of Clare Curran. Hirschfeld said it was a chance encounter, and Curran never publicly corrected this.
Was it an official or unofficial meeting?
It was clearly an official meeting. It was to discuss issues in the Minister’s portfolios, with a senior employee of Radio NZ. It was not a gossip about politics generally. It was about the Minister’s portfolios and the company (Radio NZ) that Hirschfeld worked for.
Why did Curran only use initials for Hirschfeld in her ministerial diary?
Presumably to hide the identity of Hirschfeld from her staff.
Why did Curran omit the mention of the meeting in written questions?
She says it is because it was not official. The Prime Minister has said she was wrong not to disclose it. Note that she is the Minister of so called Open Government.
As she hid the identity of the person she was meeting from her staff, presumably this is part of the reason they did not include it in the responses they drafted.
Why did Hirschfeld lie on multiple occasions about the nature of the meeting?
This is the big question. It seems very out of character for Hirschfeld, who was a very popular manager at Radio NZ, and hugely liked.
There can really be only two possible reasons – to protect herself and/or to protect Curran.
Either way it seems obvious that Hirschfeld knew the meeting was wrong or inappropriate. Otherwise she would have told the truth about it. It makes you wonder exactly what was discussed there.
Why did Curran’s office only contact Radio NZ, but not correct the public record?
A very good question.