It's not too late for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to find her copy of the "Helen Clark playbook" and stand her Communications Minister down.
It is risible to believe that Clare Curran can expect to pass off her December meeting with former RNZ head of news Carol Hirschfeld as an "informal affair" where the pair simply talked about the New Zealand media environment.
Curran — whose full title is Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister — has a new $38 million "public media" fund to play with. While she will not personally be in charge of individual funding decisions she is clearly in a position to help massage how much of that fund RNZ will get.
Figures bandied about suggest that the RNZ funding will be somewhere between $20m to $30m of the $38m total new spend. That 50 per cent differential — $10m — is a great deal of cash.
Curran will clearly also have some input into the conditions that will be applied to a taxpayer-funded radio corporation which now wants to launch itself into the television space thus complementing its radio offering and growing online presence.
But how much consideration has Curran given to the commercial effect on privately-funded media through arming RNZ to expand its operations? Does she even care? Or, is she too busy talking about the future with her private back channels in Government-owned media?
In Australia, which has a competition authority with spine, the ACCC has made clear it has the power to compel Google and Facebook to front up about the cost to news media of their dominance of Australian advertising dollars. The ACCC's inquiry in this area is expected to take up to 18 months to complete.
In New Zealand a Cabinet Minister holds "off the book" meetings with the key news executive of a taxpayer funded company and appears completely oblivious to the real commercial jeopardy the bulk of our media faces.
An over-arching public media commission is expected to be set up and those funds which will not be drained off by supporting RNZ to the disadvantage of private-funded media, will be up for competitive bids to support investigative journalism.
In this environment, it is fatuous to expect anyone to believe that the meeting between Curran and Hirschfeld, who was after all a key early player in the formation of Maori Television, was an insubstantial affair. Hirschfeld — like other RNZ staffers — is not supposed to hold meetings with Cabinet Ministers outside of journalistic inquiries. She would have known these rules. She resigned yesterday after finally confessing to her boss Paul Thompson that she had four times told porkies by saying the meeting with Curran was informal.
In fact it was pre-arranged by the Cabinet Minister.
Both parties took a clear risk by breaking with convention and meeting in this fashion behind the backs of RNZ's chairman and CEO who through no fault of their own misled Parliament on the matter.
Right now the focus is on the cover up. But what is of more note is what was covered up.
Ardern's Labour predecessor was a master in bringing errant Cabinet Ministers to account. Clark — back in New Zealand this week — made it clear that she would not have tolerated the Labour party hierarchy failing to tell her about misconduct at the Labour youth camp.
"Jacinda Ardern has been let down," was how Clark put it.
Indirectly, Ardern has had a lesson from the master on where the integrity line lies.
A great deal is made of the fact RNZ "languished" under a funding freeze before the boost in the election-year budget. Well, join the club.
If one good thing comes out of this cosy episode it would be to create a debate about the thoroughly pathetic approach that NZ Governments have taken to ensuring commercial media survive and flourish in the digital world. And prompt them to do something about it.