It's a rare situation indeed when the first "scalp" claimed by an Opposition is a journalist rather than a politician.

The abrupt "resignation" of Radio NZ's head of content Carol Hirschfeld is because Hirschfeld misled RNZ's chief executive Paul Thompson and board about a meeting she had at Wellington's Astoria Cafe with new Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran in December.

Hirschfeld had claimed it was coincidental and they bumped into each other at the cafe in Wellington. The truth emerged that it was arranged and had been in Curran's diary all along.

Hirschfeld's claims led to Thompson and Radio NZ board chairman Richard Griffin advising a Parliamentary select committee on March 1 that the meeting was by chance.


Griffin even provided an embellished account of Hirschfeld's actions that morning to the committee: "Carol had been to the gym, she was getting a coffee, they bumped into each other, in a cafe and had a conversation so it was hardly a secret meeting."

At first glance, it seems an overreaction for someone to lose a job over a cup of coffee.

But Hirschfeld put her bosses in the position of inadvertently lying to a Parliamentary select committee about it - something that amounts to a breach of privilege and can result in a finding of contempt of Parliament.

It also led to the same contention about an "unplanned meeting" being used in the Select Committee's report on its annual review of RNZ, which was released today.

Carol Hirschfeld has resigned from Radio NZ. Photo / File
Carol Hirschfeld has resigned from Radio NZ. Photo / File

It remains unclear why it took Hirschfeld until March 25 – three weeks after that select committee meeting and four months after the breakfast date - to admit the meeting was arranged. Griffin has now revealed he learned of it through a third party.

Hirschfeld was not at the select committee hearing so it is possible she was not aware of the answers Thompson and Griffin had provided to that committee.

Questions remain – and many of those relate to Curran. The most obvious is who instigated the meeting. For both it was foolhardy at best and reckless. For Hirschfeld it was career limiting.

So far Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is cautiously backing Curran – but has made it clear she is on notice.

Ardern has said Curran should have moved to correct the record earlier, especially after RNZ told the select committee it was an unplanned meeting.


There is a good reason for Ardern to be cautious. She prides herself on a transparent government.

The responses Ardern is now relying on to defend Curran had to be dragged out of her by National MP Melissa Lee.

Question number 19129 could well go down as Curran's political epitaph.

Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran faces the heat in Parliament over Carol Hirschfeld meeting. Source: Parliament TV

That was the number of the written question Lee submitted to Curran on December 7, which asked for details of meetings between Curran and the board or staff of TVNZ and RNZ.

Curran's first answer listed only a board meeting on December 7.

Curran was caught out – Wellington is a small town and there was already a media report about the meeting at Astoria on December 5.

In Parliament's question time in February Curran flannelled, talking about consulting stakeholders. Pushed for a more precise answer, she said she left mention of the Hirschfeld meeting out "because I didn't perceive it as an official meeting".

Curran then moved to correct her answer to 19129. She added "I had an informal breakfast with Carol Hirschfeld from RNZ on 5 December 2017."

There are immense sensitivities around political interference and editorial independence – especially in the state-owned media. The smallest things can turn into massive bonfires.

In 2009 TVNZ apologised at a select committee for using footage of then Finance Minister Bill English in a promo for a series on the economy. That had prompted formal complaints from Labour.

RNZ in particular must be careful.

Whether justified or not, it is more susceptible to the perception of political interference than TVNZ not least because it is fully state-funded, while TVNZ is now wholly commercially funded, up from 90 per cent earlier.

That need for caution was only magnified in light of the Labour Party's policy to throw $38 million into RNZ's coffers to try to boost it as a public broadcaster.

Money, politics and journalism have always been awkward bedmates.