'Embarrassed, disillusioned' - RNZ bosses apologise to Parliament

Clare Curran, Broadcasting Minister.
Clare Curran, Broadcasting Minister. Photo credit: Anna Bracewell-Worrall/Newshub.

RNZ chair Richard Griffin says his return to Parliament to "clear the air" over the sudden resignation of senior manager Carol Hirschfeld is an "acute embarrassment".

The return to Parliament to correct the official record resulted in a tense and fiery exchange between RNZ management and MPs from National and Labour. Mr Griffin said RNZ had become "victims of political theatre."

"I feel embarrassed. I feel disillusioned," Mr Griffin said. 

RNZ management inadvertently misled Parliament after they relayed Ms Hirschfeld's misleading version of events to a select committee. 

"I'm devastated that an attempt to cover up a prosaic meeting at a Wellington cafe has resulted in the loss of a senior staff member," Mr Griffin said.

"The problem is not the meeting. The problem is deception," he said.

Ms Hirschfeld's resignation came after she misled RNZ management for four months over the nature of a breakfast meeting with Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.

The story started percolating in December, when National's Melissa Lee asked Ms Curran a written question about meetings with staff from RNZ and TVNZ.

Ms Curran initially did not include her breakfast meeting with Ms Hirschfeld in her answer, but she corrected the record within 24 hours.

The story resurfaced when RNZ managers were told the meeting was not the coincidence they had been lead to believe. Ms Herschfeld resigned shortly after that.

It was then up to RNZ to correct the incorrect version of events they had repeated to select committee. Regarding the correction, Ms Curran left Mr Griffin a message on his phone saying he could correct the official record in writing rather than in person at select committee.

Mr Griffin said there was a strong suggestion the Minister did not want RNZ to turn up in person.

Labour MP Paul Eagle asked Mr Griffin when he first contacted Ms Lee about the resignation of Ms Hirschfeld. Mr Griffin said it was three minutes before the press release was sent out, "as a matter of courtesy".

"There's courtesy and then there's collusion," Mr Eagle replied.

Mr Griffin again had to reject the suggestion of bias toward National after Labour MP Deborah Russell asked him about previously working for the party.

Mr Griffin said he didn't work for National - he worked for the office of the Prime Minister, which at the time happened to be held by National.

Ms Lee grilled the bosses, saying they dismissed her concerns the first time they appeared at select committee - the ill-fated select committee in which Ms Hirschfeld's misleading version of events was repeated to MPs.

"We both feel very foolish," Mr Griffen said.


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