27 Mar 2018

Hirschfeld resignation: 'There are serious questions here' - Bridges

1:37 pm on 27 March 2018

National Party leader Simon Bridges says there are serious questions to be asked after a senior manager at RNZ, Carol Hirschfeld, resigned over a meeting she had with the Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran last December.

Carol Hirschfeld

Carol Hirschfeld Photo: Supplied

The meeting attracted political criticism from National, as it was not included in the minister's diary.

Labour campaigned on a policy to create RNZ+, with $38 million of "additional funding for quality New Zealand programming and journalism, independently apportioned between RNZ+ and NZ On Air", with a Public Media Funding Commission to oversee the funding.

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

But Mr Bridges said "there are serious questions here" and he wants "to get to the bottom of it".

"I think we do need to understand why it is exactly that Carol Hirschfeld has resigned, and what that means for Clare Curran."

"Quite clearly it's been significant enough for Carol Hirschfeld, hitherto a respected journalist and now a person senior within RNZ, to resign.

"So, both she and the minister have said that the meeting was coincidental."

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

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

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

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

There have been questions from the National Party MP Melissa Lee in Parliament about the meeting, as well as questions to Mr Thompson and the board chairman Richard Griffin at select committee earlier this month.

Mr Griffin said then that it was not a formal meeting.

"As I say, in a perfect world I would look to better timing, in fact that sort of circumstances won't happen again," he said at the time.

"However, I can't be much clearer, I don't see it as sinister, or in any way breaking protocols."

At the time, Ms Curran told Parliament "I have a range of discussions, informal or otherwise with many people in a range of portfolio areas".

She said she did not perceive it as an official meeting.

However, Mr Thompson said Ms Hirschfeld told him on Sunday the meeting had been pre-arranged.

The meeting was a "general discussion of no great importance" and while he was sure RNZ+ was discussed, it was only in "general terms", Mr Thompson said.

It was disappointing but it was important he set the record straight, and Ms Hirschfeld has resigned, effective immediately, he said.

He said he did not think it would affect any of RNZ's funding.

RNZ head of news and digital Glen Scanlon will take over her responsibilities in the interim.

Personal source contacted board chair

Mr Griffin said he was contacted by a personal source last week who alerted him to the fact there were questions about the accuracy of statements he'd made to a select committee.

After queries from RNZ, Ms Curran confirmed the meeting had been instigated by her as minister, and was in her diary five days before the meeting, he said.

Mr Griffin said he has contacted the chairman of the committee to see how they can correct the public record.