RNZ chairman Richard Griffin has refused to play for MPs a contentious voice message left on his phone by Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.
Griffin and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson were at the centre of an often terse exchange with MPs today as they reappeared before the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee to correct the record over earlier comments about the nature of a meeting between former RNZ head of news Carol Hirschfeld and Curran.
Their appearance today was pre-empted by reports on Tuesday that Curran had phoned Griffin to suggest it would be better for him to write a letter rather than appear in person.
Both Curran and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have denied that, saying Curran left a phone message to pass on advice from the Office of the Leader of the House that a letter would be faster to correct the record if he was unable to make it to the select committee in person.
Today, Griffin said he had interpreted the message left on March 29 as a "strong suggestion that I immediately send a letter to the select committee chair. The Minister seemed to be labouring under the impression at the time she left the message that we were to appear that afternoon.
"She made it very clear that she wanted me to write a letter to the chair of the select committee to be on his desk before one o'clock that day which would then ensure that there wasn't a public hearing involving either of us," Griffin said.
National MP Paul Goldsmith asked Griffin is he still had the recording and whether he would play it to the select committee.
"No I won't, but I do," he replied.
Asked what he had inferred from the message, Griffin said: "The implication was, as far I was concern, that it would be far more satisfactory to all concerned if we just put a letter on the table and left it at that."
National MP Melissa Lee has now formally requested a copy of that voice message.
Griffin said he was embarrassed and devastated over what had transpired since their previous appearance.
"Our support for, and defence of, the parties involved was based on erroneous information. On reflection, the robust nature of certainly my response at the time is now an acute embarrassment, as is our appearance here today."
Hirschfeld resigned last week after repeatedly lying to her bosses about the meeting at the Astoria cafe.
She had said it was a chance encounter but it was found four months later that the breakfast meeting at the Astoria was instigated by Curran and arranged by text between the pair.
Griffin said he was devastated that the attempted cover-up of the meeting had resulted in the loss of a talented and valued executive, damaged RNZ's relationship with the new Government at a critical time for the broadcaster, caused reputational damage to individuals and potential damage to RNZ.
Thompson "sincerely apologised" for misleading the committee based on information he had believed to be true.
"The meeting was unfortunate. Any perception of any kind of interference in our integrity is deeply concerning … the fact that we were misled made it doubly a problem."
Thompson said Hirschfeld had given him repeated assurances that the meeting was coincidental, that she and Curran had bumped into each other and talked.
He had asked for details on what was discussed and was told it was around the media sector and RNZ policy.
"And I trusted her word."
Griffin said the Minister had known he and Thompson had misled the select committee since March 1 but had never raised it with him.
Thompson said he had been made aware on March 1 when a staff member from the Minister's office contacted a staff member at RNZ.
"The information was secondhand, it wasn't formally raised through the appropriate channels which would have been through the chair."
Griffin said he was "gobsmacked" to receive a call from the Minister's office on March 22 to advise that Curran was facing three questions in Parliament that afternoon and that the meeting could be raised.
"The staffer's attitude was 'we will handle this appropriately but we'd like you basically to stay out of it'. I was gobsmacked quite honestly."
He was told there was in fact a diary entry for the meeting and that would be advised to the House but his concern was that he had misled the select committee.
Griffin and Thompson appeared before the committee this morning just hours after Curran jetted out of New Zealand to attend the Commonwealth Games. She returns on Saturday.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been forced to defend her Minister, first because Curran had originally omitted to mention the meeting in an answer in Parliament, and then because she had called Griffin over his select committee appearance.