RNZ chairman Richard Griffin says he was told by Clare Curran's office not to comment on her meeting with Carol Hirschfeld less than an hour before the Broadcasting Minister was to be grilled in Parliament over it.
National says that would amount to political interference if true.
Griffin and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson reappeared at a parliamentary select committee on Thursday to correct the record over comments they made earlier about the nature of the cafe meeting between the Broadcasting Minister and Hirschfeld, RNZ's former head of content.
Hirschfeld's repeated lies to her bosses over how the encounter at Wellington's Astoria cafe transpired resulted in her immediate resignation from the state broadcaster last week.
Griffin told the committee that on March 22, about five minutes before Curran was due in Parliament to answer questions, he received a call from her office.
Griffin said he was "gobsmacked" to receive the call to say the December 5 meeting could come up in the questions.
"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."
In a timeline provided to the committee, Griffin said: "I was told that, if the matter was raised, the Minister and her staff would be responding as they felt appropriate and that they expected there would be 'no comment' from RNZ".
He told the committee that he heard, for the first time, that 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.
"As far as I'm concerned now, it was not only a formal meeting, it was a contrived meeting."
Curran disputed that, saying she was assured her staff did not say that "they expected there would be no comment from RNZ".
Her staff contacted Radio New Zealand on March 1 and on March 22.
"I'm also assured the office never said to Mr Griffin that we would like RNZ to stay out of it," Curran said.
Her primary concern was, and that of her staff, that RNZ had misled the select committee by repeating claims from Hirschfield that it was a chance meeting.
"My office told RNZ and Mr Griffin that it was a pre-arranged meeting and that is asked I would confirmed that because that was the truth."
National MP Melissa Lee, who has driven the issue of Curran's meeting with Hirschfeld with her questions, told reporters Thursday she would be concerned if there was a suggestion from a minister's office that the chairperson of a board stay out of something that was a matter of public interest.
"I would call that interference. I think it would be inappropriate for a minister to be interfering in that."
At his committee appearance today, Griffin refused to play a voice recording of Curran's call to him last week over the upcoming select committee.
It was reported on Tuesday that Curran had phoned Griffin on March 29 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 Griffin was unable to make it to the select committee in person.
Today Griffin said: "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."
National MP Paul Goldsmith asked Griffin if he still had the recording and whether he would play it to the select committee.
"No I won't, but I do," Griffin replied.
Asked what he had inferred from the message. Griffin said: "The implication was, as far I was concerned, that it would be far more satisfactory to all concerned if we just put a letter on the table and left it at that."
Lee has requested a copy of the voice message and other communications.
Griffin said he was embarrassed and devastated over what had transpired since he and Thompson had previously appeared before the committee.
"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 had said the meeting was a chance encounter but it was found four months later that the meeting was instigated by Curran and arranged by text between the pair.
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."
Curran was not in Parliament today, having left early today for the Commonwealth Games in Australia.