By Peter Thompson
The resignation of Carol Hirschfeld from RNZ over her meeting with the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media may not be a political scandal but it raises some questions for both the Government and RNZ.
Although the Opposition is attempting to highlight ministerial impropriety, informal meetings between ministers and people in public sector positions are commonplace.
If Minister Clare Curran consulted Hirschfeld informally as an experienced media executive, rather than as an RNZ manager, this would doubtless be only one of dozens of such meetings any minister would routinely hold with persons within their sector of responsibility.
On the other hand, if the Minister met Hirschfeld in her capacity as an RNZ manager, and discussed matters of operational import, then the latter's failure to disclose this fully to her bosses at RNZ arguably takes on a different significance.
But even if the latter scenario is correct, Hirschfeld's role as head of content presumably made her a pivotal figure in RNZ's response to the Government's vision for expanding its presence on free-to-air television.
Indeed, the interim committee recently appointed by the Minister to advise on the initial disbursement of the promised $38m for public media as a multi-platform model to be called RNZ+ will soon be reviewing the plans and funding expectations put forward by RNZ.
The timing of Hirschfeld's departure may therefore hint at a deeper conflict with her RNZ bosses over RNZ+.
Interestingly, chair Richard Griffin recently claimed that RNZ was not planning a stand-alone TV channel, and last year he rejected Better Public Media's claims that RNZ needed significant additional funding, even advising the Commerce Committee that RNZ was a 'competitive organisation, not public service per se'.
Hirschfeld's departure is therefore unfortunate in its timing. Hopefully this does not indicate any misalignment between the government's manifesto commitments and the RNZ board as the plans for RNZ+ are developed.
That would be a real scandal.
- Peter Thompson is the chair of the Better Public Media Trust and a senior lecturer in media studies at Victoria University of Wellington.