Carol Hirschfeld's resignation as head of content for RNZ shows that "Honesty Is The Best Policy", while Claire Curran's decision to set up a cafe meeting reminds us all to "Look Before You Leap". Let the clichés commence ... .

Outside of the National Party’s caucus room, there are two sets of people who will be very glad to see Carol Hirschfeld and Claire Curran caught up in a political whirlwind of their own making.

The first is New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft. Who is that, I hear you say? Exactly – until Marcroft rather foolishly suggested to National Party MP Mark Mitchell that government funding for a project he is championing could depend on his dropping criticism of fellow NZ First MP and Minister Ron Mark, she toiled away in blissful obscurity.

Marcroft may well be buying a Lotto ticket after today’s events largely drove her deeply unacceptable behaviour from the news, allowing her to revert to the natural background role more suited to the 9th and last placed MP in NZ First’s caucus.

The second set are the various paid-up members of New Zealand’s commentariat, present company included. For Hirschfeld’s shock resignation as RNZ’s head of content and Broadcasting Minister Curran’s rather clumsy role in it give us a golden opportunity to dust off the clichés and let them run riot.

Holding an off-the-books meeting in a café at the same time as the Government considers pumping an extra $38 million into the organisation is most definitely “Not a Good Look”. Misleading your employers about the circumstances of the meeting, thereby causing them to mislead a parliamentary select committee, demonstrates that “The Cover-Up Is Worse Than the Crime”.

A Minister holding a press conference to try and sheet ultimate responsibility for the whole “Omnishambles” to a media organisation that now will be determined to prove its independence from you may yet prove that “Pride Comes Before a Fall”. I could go on for ever, couldn’t I?

In terms of the substance of what has happened, however, there does not seem all that much to say. While opposition MPs are required to insist the matter be taken very seriously, I don’t actually think any of them genuinely believe that a Minister and senior, very recognisable RNZ figure would choose the most visible café in Wellington’s political scene in which to hatch a plot to turn the organisation into an arm of the Labour-led Government.

Of course, that may be because a good number of those MPs believe that RNZ already plays such a role. It is a common trope amongst some right-of-centre politicians and talking heads that the state-run “Radio Red” skews towards the left side of politics.

We may note that such claims of political bias have been mirrored by left-of-centre critics, who point to things like the background of RNZ chair Richard Griffin as evidence that the previous National Government sought to put its particular stamp on the organisation. Given our natural predisposition to only notice evidence that fits our pre-existing ideological frameworks, it is unlikely either side can ever be convinced that they are wrong.

But what these allegations demonstrate is (to dust off another cliché) RNZ’s need as a publicly funded media outlet to adhere to the “Caesar’s Wife Principle”: to not only try to act impartially in fact, but to be seen to be above suspicion of acting in a partial fashion.

That’s where Curran’s action in proposing an apparently not-secret-but-still-informal-yet-substantive-meeting with Hirschfeld demonstrated real naivete (to put it remarkably kindly). Even a new Minister coming into office ought to have realised that this simply was not a good idea.

And Hirschfeld clearly recognised that going to the meeting was a very bad idea for her, as the apparent subsequent attempts to downgrade it to a coincidental post-gym happening demonstrate. As a general rule, you don’t mislead your bosses about your actions, and let them in turn mislead Parliament, unless you know you’ve made a pretty significant slip-up.

Which now has produced a quite sad result for Hirschfeld, who is by all accounts extremely good at what she does and a very nice person along with it. It also does nothing for Curran’s reputation as an accident-prone Minister and potential weak-link in the Labour Party’s ranks. Certainly, her credibility as Associate Minister for State Services (Open Government) is not helped by performances such as this one.

So perhaps one last cliché is in order. “Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave”, and all that.

 

Comments (20)

by Liam Hehir on March 27, 2018
Liam Hehir

I wouldn't call RNZ "Red Radio" but it's not tenable to maintain that it doesn't have a softish, Guardian reading-ish, left-ish tinge to it. It's a particular type of tinge, of course, which is equally unsatisfying to the hardcore socialists. But the fact that those more left than centre-left have their grumbles too doesn't tell us much. Plenty of radical leftists whinge about Labour too, that doesn't mean that you can't discern how Labour, as an institution, sees certain issues.

I think its just kind of inevitable when you look at the type of people who decide to be journalists and the places where mass media tends to be based.

For example, when we legalised gay marriage in 2012, probably between 30% and 45% of voters were probably opposed. A large minority, in other words. Leaving aside the substance, what do you think the percentage opposed among professionals at RNZ would have been? Would it have been greater than 5%?

What about on the question of abolishing the Maori seats? Again, there's probably a large minority of New Zealanders in favour. But I doubt that 5% of those crafting content at RNZ would be among them.

On the whole, this doesn't really bother me. It's just a fact of life and most professional journalists work very hard to ensure that both sides are given a fair hearing - even if the discussion takes place under that general filter. Those drawn to journalism tend to be left wing just as those drawn to farming tend to be more conservative. 

To be honest, and speaking as a rightwinger, I'd rather have a gentry liberal infused RNZ than no RNZ at all.

by Matthew Hooton on March 27, 2018
Matthew Hooton

Andrew, it's "Red Radio" not "Radio Red".

by on March 27, 2018
Anonymous

I'd like to Know what part of this meeting was covered up? 

By an objective standard, compared to the pre-Labour ministers they are actually not doing that badly. People's view of pre-Labour Radio New Zealand is heavy clouded by nostalgia and all negatively viewed developments since then are ascribed solely to privatization. People don't ponder whether the same would have happened without National Party attempts to privatiz anyway. People who think that re-nationalization of Radio New Zealand would mean journalism run better are as delusional as those who think that TPPA-11 means the beginning of the end for New Zealand and the re-establishment of a great British empire.

That Carol Hirschfeld resigned over this National Party beat up should not be compounded by further resignations. That an opposition party would play a disrupting role in this matter should not be taken genuinely.

by on March 27, 2018
Anonymous

Pfft. The more I read about this the more school boys beta orbiting around there feminine charms appears. 

by Nick Gibbs on March 27, 2018
Nick Gibbs

You've got to give Labour credit for exceptional incompetence here. Firstly they have yet to recover from the debacle of running a piss up with minors in tow before Jones is putting Cindy in a corner by bashing the Air NZ board and laughing off her rebuke. Maycroft tries to strong arm National (a treat so so badly made even Winstone couldn't defend it. Thats off the scale incompetence) Finally Curran, the minister for open govt puts her foot in it. 

Given the above pattern of stupidity I have to assume Curran offered Hirschfeld a budget increase of millions but demanded editorial oversight. I can only wonder what Hirschfeld replied. Whatever she said, they both knew no one must ever find out. Dumb to hold the meeting in Astoria then.

 

by Raymond A Francis on March 27, 2018
Raymond A Francis

And if you think Liam is just giving a right wing version of RNZ I note Checkpoint with John Campbell, rather than leading with this story lead with a rigorous interrogation of some poor b from Counties Manukau DHB on the rotting hospital.

Oh a big story but recorded this afternoon while the really big story but involving close friend Carol Hirschfeld just slipped away.

by Chris Morris on March 27, 2018
Chris Morris

Sam, Did you actually read Andrew's article? - it doesn't look like you did.

Carol had to resign because she lied to both her bosses who then made incorrect statements on her behalf to a Parliamentary committee. That is the equivalent of perjury. What the meeting was about might just have been non-political gossip and saying otherwise could be a beatup, but that isn't the point. They had an arranged meeting and denied it - both of them. Remember Ms Curran had to issue a "correction" to a written answer she gave to a question in the house. As Andrew says, "The coverup is worse than the Crime".

With regard Ms Curran, she is a gift to the opposition. How many public servant's careers has she killed now? With her form, no-one with any sense will talk to her. Her credibility has gone. And the longer she stays a Minister, the more people she will drag down with her.

 

by Andrew Geddis on March 27, 2018
Andrew Geddis

@Matthew H:

Andrew, it's "Red Radio" not "Radio Red".

Oops. I guess I failed my VRWC audition, huh?

by Chris Morris on March 27, 2018
Chris Morris

There seems to be new versions of the "truth" coming out

www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2018/03/informal-hirschfeld-meeting-was-...

by on March 27, 2018
Anonymous

Utter rubbish. You could replace this weak school boy hit job on a couple of woman with some emoji giggles. 

 

There're serious issues up for debate. Our entire spy apparatus is in the shit over Dotcom and you nubs pipe up about this this, nothing. First Carol Hirschfeld got fired from Māori TV for no good reason and more than a hint of National Party bias. And now it seems she is unwanted from RNZ. She's won awards. All indications says she's good for ratings. You can not put jobs on the line so you fools can a bit of a laugh at some woman who by all accounts did nothing wrong. If any of you guys honestly think any of this would be job for your reputation or media ratings youre delusional.

by Mary Dearsley on March 27, 2018
Mary Dearsley

And this news item has been an effective distraction from the real news of the day - the illegal actions of Chris Finlayson as ex Attorney General to alter the course of justice. Misusing the Privacy Act. 

by Dennis Frank on March 28, 2018
Dennis Frank

While working with Carol in the TVNZ newsroom for several years during the '90s I got the impression she's competent, perceptive and reasonable, so having to resign due to lying to her boss is quite a surprising development.  Perhaps her judgment got warped by the politics of the situation.

Guessing at the reason for her meeting with the minister has pointed to the ambitious plan for RNZ to launch into television as a public broadcaster - just news & current affairs, I gather.  A good plan for the new government, inasmuch as TVNZ has abdicated that role due to the mercenary SOE structure imposed upon it, and we still need some actual public service broadcasting that operates on the basis of our common interests.  The ensuing media kerfuffle is being powered by perceptions of unethical conduct and inappropriate behaviour - but how the hell can the broadcasting minister advance the project without consulting those involved??

Surely it's unreasonable to prevent the minister from having such informal meetings to get her up to speed.  We know formal meetings tend to be contaminated by ritual political posturing by both the left & right.  We know Labour & National are guilty of ongoing attempts to politicise our public service for as long as any of us can remember.  Understandable that she'd have to bypass the RNZ chair & CEO when they're commonly known as political appointees.  So the real issue beneath all the hoo-ha is how we make progress in broadcasting in Aotearoa by ensuring it gets driven by those of us who are neither left nor right.  If the PM sees this imperative, she'll create a non-partisan body to drive the enterprise.

by Kat on March 28, 2018
Kat

"Red Radio" yeah right, thats why it was rebranded "RNZ National"

Reminds me of that old Dads Army song, "Who do you think you are kidding mr H......."

 

by Megan Pledger on March 29, 2018
Megan Pledger

And it's hilarious that old Granny Herald branded RNZ that when they are bluer than blue.  It's very difficult for them to say otherwise given what they did to their newspaper and website at the election before last - they were literally nailing their colours to the masthead in support of National while the latter were under pressure from the fall-out from Dirty Politics.

by Megan Pledger on March 29, 2018
Megan Pledger

When you weigh the news up that occurred that day - a radio news manager lies about/misrepresents a meeting with a politican to her bosses versus the Attornay General broke the law in the on-going train wreck of the Dot Com case that National put together - it seems strange that RNZ seemed to gleefully lead with the former hour after hour on their news but no mention was made of the latter.

The former maybe fun for the media to scrap over because it's one of their own getting dealt to (and a women and a Maori) but the real news for the safety of out democracy is the latter.    So much made about not a lot - it harkens me back to the Metiria Turei saga.  

 

by Chris Morris on March 29, 2018
Chris Morris

Minister Curran got caught out. She thought she could ignore the rules - she wasn't being naive, she knew exactly what she was doing. Otherwise, how does one explain her grilling of Te Ururoa Flavell less than three years ago on a very similar issue. https://twitter.com/TeUruroaFlavell/status/978410916545875968

by Kat on March 29, 2018
Kat

Rules, and there is the irony.

National break the rules to effect change towards more private sector corporate activity with very little publicity and appear to get away with it. Labour break the rules to effect change towards more public sector funded activity and atttract intense publicity and scrutiny.

It is going to be interesting to see which ideology wins out in the end.

by Charlie on March 31, 2018
Charlie

This story may have more legs:

> Was this their only meeting?

> Did previous meetings occur when Labour was in opposition?

> Did Hirschfeld assist an opposition Labour party in forming policy?

> What are the contents of the texts between Curran and Hirschfeld and what are the dates of the texts?

Curran isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the box - one wonders what else will be prised out in the coming weeks.

by Kat on March 31, 2018
Kat

What was Richard Griffin doing directly contacting an oppostition National MP......

Where did Melissa Lee the opposition National MP get her information from...

How long has Richard Griffin been secretly contacting MP's with the National party....

Why is the RNZ management and board stacked with National poodles.....

Why is there no media scrutiny of the make up of the RNZ board......

Why is "Blue Radio" allowed to continue such right wing biased and purile B grade hostile propaganda......

Why since the texts and dates between Curran and Hirschfeld have been made public days ago is a certain pundit still asking dumb questions.

Why do trolls exist.......

Why must we put p with them...........

 

by Tim Watkin on April 04, 2018
Tim Watkin

Charlie, your comment has been edited. One of your points was personal and potentially defamatory. 

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