The National and Act parties have hit out at RNZ over its refusal to release a full copy of Cabinet minister Kiri Allan’s speech at her fiancee’s leaving function which took aim at the state broadcaster over claims it has been unable to keep Māori media talent.
Today, through a Herald Official Information Act (OIA) request, Radio NZ released a partial transcript of the minister’s speech which she made during Māni Dunlop’s farewell from the organisation in March.
Dunlop, an award-winning journalist who had worked at RNZ for 11 years, indicated during her final broadcast on March 31 that she left because she was passed over for the “top job”.
The partial transcript that was released included allegations from Allan that there was “something wrong within the organisation that will not and has not been able to keep Māori talent and that is a question that I think deserves some deep reflection.”
National’s broadcasting and media spokeswoman Melissa Lee told the Herald it was “very disappointing” RNZ chose to release only two paragraphs of the speech.
“Even the minister herself said she’s both minister and also a partner of Māni.
“So I think it’s fair game that, you know, whatever she actually did, I think it oversteps the mark.”
Act party leader David Seymour said releasing “snippets and hiding other parts of the transcript” only makes Allan’s speech “more suspicious”.
“RNZ should clear up any lingering doubts and release the whole transcript, like they did to the PM’s office,” he said.
“If the minister has got nothing to hide, why wouldn’t she take the open and transparent approach Labour has long promised and ask for the tape to be released?”
When asked about the situation, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told journalists in Wellington today that he had seen the transcript at the time and made his judgment based on that.
“Her comments were unwise, but I don’t think they’re at the stage that warrants further action from me,” he said.
When asked about RNZ only releasing a portion of the speech, he said it was a “matter for RNZ”.
Last month, Allan apologised for her comments and said it could have been interpreted as her telling the state broadcaster how to manage its staff or company.
Hipkins said he had accepted Allan’s apology and that management of issues involving families of MPs was “tricky”.
“She was invited to the event in a personal capacity and was there as a family member.
“It’s natural and understandable for people to support their families.”
A spokesperson for Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson said it was an “operational matter for RNZ”.
Lee told the Herald it was “utterly despicable” that the Prime Minister has received the full transcript and the public has not.
“I think it is really irresponsible. I find it really disappointing that RNZ would actually do that. I mean, there is a process where media have actually asked questions through the official channels of OIAs and MPs also have used that path and today [the OIA request] has been delayed, and yet the Prime Minister is actually privy to that document but the public nor the other media don’t have access to it.”
Lee believed this was an issue of openness and transparency.
On whether there was a problem at RNZ with retaining Māori talent, she said there was an issue at “all organisations” with talent.
“I don’t know how much Māori talent there is on RNZ but, you know, when I actually look at the way that RNZ has actually progressed in diversity, I think it has actually done really well compared to previous years.”
At a time when she said the Government is trying to squash claims it is not exerting authority or influence over the media, she said Allan missed the mark.
“I just hope that people actually understand that, you know, when you have a Crown minister going into an organisation, like RNZ indeed, a minister is always a minister, regardless of whether she is there for her partner, as a partner or whether she is actually there as a minister, executing her ministerial duties. Any comment that she actually makes will be taken as something that a minister has actually said.”
Seymour agreed and said: “A minister’s words carry weight, even when they are carried out while ‘speaking as an individual’. When a Cabinet minister is addressing a room full of employees at a government-funded organisation, they should at least be accountable enough to stand by what they say publicly.”
The partial release of the transcript comes just days after RNZ’s head of news, Richard Sutherland, announced his resignation and plans to leave the broadcaster at the end of July. In a statement, Sutherland said he was taking an extended break. It is understood his departure is not connected to the Allan issue.
RNZ’s response to the Herald’s Official Information Act request said the farewell was conducted in accordance with both tikanga Māori protocols and the protocols of how RNZ conducts employees’ farewells.
“In relation to the event, those protocols meant that there was an open floor where people could trust that what they said was for that audience only and they were able to speak openly and frankly.”
It said Allan’s kōrero was made as a direct response to the invitation, established at the start of the evening, for attendees to “challenge RNZ” if they wished to do so.
“She made it clear she was speaking as an individual on behalf of Māni Dunlop and her whānau.”
In the response, RNZ said she made brief comments that were critical of the broadcaster, which were first reported by the Herald.
“We are of the view that Ms Allan’s speech, made at a private farewell with family and friends present, where speakers were encouraged to speak openly, involves a privacy interest that should be protected under section 9(2)(a) OIA.”
RNZ also noted the sensitivity of the information, it being personal information of an emotional and private nature and the circumstances in which the information was obtained.
“In particular the strong expectation of privacy in the context of a farewell done in accordance with RNZ tikanga. Specifically, we consider that attendees have privacy interests that warrant protection.”
While the organisation released some comments from her speech, it said the remainder and the video and audio recording of the RNZ comments will be withheld to protect the attendees’ privacy.