Carol Hirschfeld resigns over meeting minister

by RNZ / 27 March, 2018

Carol Hirschfeld. Photo/RNZ.

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A senior manager at RNZ, Carol Hirschfeld, has resigned after a meeting she had with the Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran last December.

The meeting has already 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.

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. 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.

Read more: Curran on Hirschfeld's resignation: 'It was not a secret meeting'

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

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

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

National Party leader Simon Bridges. Photo/Getty.

'There's serious questions here'

National Party leader Simon Bridges said he wanted to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

"I think we do need to understand why it is exactly that Carol Hirschfeld has resigned, and what that means for Clare Curran. But there's serious questions here and I want to get to the bottom of it."

"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."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she could not comment on whether Ms Hirschfeld had misled 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."

This was originally published on RNZ.

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