Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has tried to throw a protection blanket over Clare Curran but it has already frayed leaving her errant Minister exposed.

Ardern asserted that her Broadcasting Minister did not breach Cabinet rules when she held her controversial meeting with former RNZ news boss Carol Hirschfeld last December to discuss - "at a high level" - plans for additional public funding for the state-owned radio broadcaster which would be used to expand RNZ's multi-media platform.

The circumstances of this meeting, which Curran and Hirschfeld both initially tried to pass off as simply "informal", are now in the public arena.

Hirschfeld's multiple assertions to her RNZ bosses that the meeting was informal - rather than prearranged by Curran - have resulted in her resignation.


She was found out when the Minister's staffers were forced to tell the truth after RNZ bosses Richard Griffin and Paul Thompson misled a parliamentary committee on the issue.

In these circumstances, surely the Prime Minister should take a forensic approach.

The Prime Minister endeavoured to explain the affair away by suggesting Curran's error was simply not to disclose the meeting when she was questioned about it by a National MP.

"The minister had apologised to me for the lack of transparency from the very beginning around the fact that the meeting occurred, and the fact it was not included in that original written question. It should have been."

Ardern went on to assert there was nothing wrong with the pair meeting.

"The primary relationship is between the minister and the board. The minister is very clear on that. But it is not unusual for ministers to meet with those who work within Crown entities generally."

In fact, the Prime Minister is way out of the park.

Section 3.81 of the Cabinet Manual is explicit. It says, "if an employee wishes to communicate privately with a Minister about a matter concerning the agency by which he or she is employed, the Minister should ensure that the employee has first raised the matter with the agency's chief executive".


Curran did not do that.

She should have ensured that Hirschfeld got permission from her boss Thompson and/or Griffin before meeting her at Wellington's Astoria restaurant.

The Prime Minister and Curran could argue that the 3.81 rule focuses on what should occur if "an employee wishes to communicate privately with a Minister" - rather than what the situation would be if the impetus for the meeting came from the Minister. But that is splitting hairs.

The line is obvious.

And in RNZ's case this rule is doubly important as Curran has allowed a situation to develop where the perception is that she used the key RNZ news executive as her back channel into the corporation.

This compromised Hirschfeld. But it also resulted in an unfortunate perception that the pair had been consorting outside of the usual governance norms on RNZ's future - and options for a new public service television channel which on her past track record she could reliably expect Hirschfeld to support.

It's notable that while Hirschfeld has to some extent thrown herself under the bus, it is the RNZ executive who is paying the price for these sins of omission - not Curran.

In February, Curran gained Cabinet approval to convene a ministerial advisory group chaired by businessman Michael Stiassny to advise on establishing a Public Media Funding Commission. Other members include former Deputy State Services Commissioner Sandi Beatti, former RNZ deputy chair Josh Easby and freelance television consultant Irene Gardiner.

The Cabinet paper said a continuing loss of advertising revenue to international aggregating sites threatens the production of quality journalism in the private and other commercial media.

"At present the contribution of both private and public media to supporting an informed democracy is not as strong as it ought to be or could be".

The group will advise Curran on the role, scope and detailed functions of a commission and alternatives to it. The commission (if finally set up) will advise parliament, Government and the public on the state of NZ's media ecosystem and of public media in it. The commission will recommend to parliament, three years funding levels for RNZ+ for RNZ to enhance its role as a multi-platform provider and also NZ On Air. It will also recommend the division of additional funding to them and receive multi-year funding bids and business cases from these agencies. In such an environment where the Broadcasting Minister has now shown she cannot wait for her ministerial advisory group to report back there is a clear risk her ultimate decision will be tainted.