How Griffin and Curran parted
By Richard Harman (author)
Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran has “dumped” pages, and pages of emails and other documents in response to an avalanche of Official Information Act requests over the RNZ – Carol Hirschfeld affair.
Most of the documents have been redacted.
Some of the redactions are ridiculous’ a letter written by the RNZ Chair and CEO to the Economic Development Select Committee before their latest appearance has had all its content redacted yet the Committee itself ahs made the letter public.
Ironically, Curran is also Minister of Open Government.
Other requests have journalists’ names redacted but their signature blocks included (including POLITIK) ; one name has not been redacted at all.
The documents confirm that almost right to the end, though the Minister finally confirmed that her controversial meeting with Hirschfeld had been pre-planned, Hirschfeld was insisting to her RNZ executives that it was not.
On the morning of the appearance by RNC Chair, Richard Griffin and CEO, Paul Thompson, at the Select Committee when Griffin had explained (at times vehemently) that the meeting between Curran and Hirschfeld was a casual encounter with Hirschfeld still in her gym gear, Curran's office phoned RNZ at 1142 shortly after Griffin left the Select Committee.
A note of the calls reads: “To confirm what RNZ had said to the Select Committee and as a result advise that it was not a chance meeting, as it was in the Minister’s diary. Incorrect information had been given to the Select Committee.”
RNZ called back at 1500: “To advise RNZ had checked again with Carol who maintained her story that it was a chance meeting.”
Then on the 22nd of March --- three weeks later --- Curran’s office phoned RNZ again: To advise RNZ again that the meeting was not a chance meeting and that it had been in the diary since 23 November.”
RNZ called back: “RNZ relayed a message from Paul Thompson for the office to call Richard Griffin to notify him of the diary entry.”
At 1404 the office called Griffin: Mr Griffin was in a noisy café, but he was told the meeting had not been a chance meeting and that it had been in the Minister’s diary from Nov 23. Discussion held about misleading the Select Committee.”
Two hours later Griffin called back: “Richard Griffin calls back to confirm the earlier conversation and thanks office for letting him know.”
That weekend Griffin and Thompson confronted Hirschfeld and forced her resignation.
But Griffin was privately furious that he had been misled not just by Hirschfeld, but he felt, by Curran's tardiness in confirming the facts of the meeting, which had led him and Thompson to mislead a Select Committee.
His relationship with Curran had begun to break down.
It was a far cry from November 8 last year when he met the Minister, and a released email quotes him thanking her for the courteous and constructive discussion she had with him over the future of RNZ that day.
“And I want to thank you also for supporting my continued leadership of the board through the introductory stage of what promises to be the most innovative programme of change to the organisation in decades,” he wrote.
What he didn’t know was that five days before, on November 3, Curran had texted Hirschfeld suggesting they meet, in effect, behind Griffin's back..
In doing that, Hirschfeld was breaching RNZ protocols which said that any meeting between a staff member and the Minister had to be reported to the CEO. This was particularly sensitive in Hirschfeld’s case because she was head of News and was about to head up the controversial RNZ TV project which the RNZ board and senior management were sceptical about.
The first Griffin knew about this was on March 22 when Curran’s office phoned him to confirm it.
There were also questions about whether Curran had breached the Cabinet Manual.
Those questions were serious enough for her to seek advice from the Cabinet Office and for the Prime Minister's Office to maintain a watching brief on what was going on.
In many ways, the emails add little to what we already know except to underline the way the relationship between Griffin and Curran broke down.