Justice Minister Judith Collins lashed out TVNZ press gallery reporter Katie Bradford this morning, telling rival channel TV3 in an interview that Bradford had raised with her difficulties her former partner might have getting into Police College because of his family connections.
Collins then took to Twitter, effectively daring TV3 to raise the allegations she made about Bradford.
Collins has since apologised to Bradford on Twitter.
The reference to family connections is thought to be referring to Bradford's mother, the former Green MP and frequently arrested protestor Sue Bradford.
Collins' outburst followed her lashing out at Bradford on Twitter last night as a "liar" after Bradford said in her TV report on National's northern regional conference that she hadn't seen Collins at the conference, which was true, although Collins had been there.
Katie Bradford was shocked by Collins' allegations today.
"I've had a good working relationship with the Minister in my years covering politics in parliament but I have never asked her for a personal favour," she said in a statement.
"Back in 2010 my ex-partner was considering applying for the police force - at the time it had been suggested to him that he might have an issue being accepted. I recall that this came up in informal conversation between the Minister and me but I never asked her to intervene. As it was, my then partner never formally applied to join the police."
Collins said in a tweet tonight: "Katie, I was answering questions about wider public engagement. Yr example came to mind. Reflected on that. Shouldnt have. Sorry."
Katie Bradford was covering the conference and was part of a media standup after the Prime Minister's speech which was dominated by TV3 questions about Collins' allegations.
Mr Key tried to down play any suggestion of an ongoing war on the media just over four months from the general election.
"I don't believe every individual thing people say or every inference they make, but we have a good working relationship with the media. The media have got a job to do. We have got a job to do and that is where is should start and finish."
Collins said she did not take the issue Bradford had raised any further but tweeted "I thought it was very odd and wrong".
She would not speak to the Herald about it but appeared to be down-playing it when she later said through her press secretary: "It's just an example of the fact that many people bring up portfolio-related matters with ministers during various encounters."
Collins was being interviewed by TV3 about a report in the Herald on Sunday about an approach Labour MP Ross Robertson had made to her as Police Minister.
He had asked about leave entitlement of his daughter, who was a police officer and a serious athlete.
Collins subsequently did make inquiries of the police following Robertson's approach.
TVNZ Head of News and Current Affairs John Gillespie said in a statement he had spoken to Collins following her comments to TV3.
"She stated that this came up as a topic in conversation and she also stated that Katie Bradford never asked for help.
"Katie is a respected senior journalist and an asset to our parliamentary reporting team. She joined TVNZ last year and she is currently deputy chair of the press gallery."
Last week's resignation of Maurice Williamson over his interference in a police investigation has turned the spotlight back on Collins' ongoing troubles over her dealings with the Oravida company, of which her husband is a director.
The Cabinet Office believes she breached the cabinet manual in creating the perception of a conflict of interest in her dealings with them during a justice-related trip to China.
She has apologized and Key today continued to express confidence in Collins.
Key drew a clear distinction between policing matters and Williamson's interference.
"It may well be that an MP or anybody else in the public raises a policing matter with either the minister or the police, that may be possible. That is vastly different to a minister making a phone call during an ongoing prosecution.
"That is against the cabinet manual and it is a very clear line. It is vastly different from anything else I have ever heard raised."