Tempers flared in the Economic Development, Science and Innovation select committee on Thursday as RNZ executives again faced questions about the organisation’s independence.
Chair Richard Griffin and CEO Paul Thompson were appearing before the committee to correct the record following their previous appearance in March where they defended RNZ's head of content Carol Hirschfeld over a meeting with Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran. Hirschfeld had said the meeting was coincidental, but it has since emerged that the meeting was scheduled in advance and Hirschfeld had misled her employers.
Griffin was visibly uncomfortable as he was questioned by both Government and National MPs on RNZ’s conduct since the incident.
Griffin said that he had been misled by Hirschfeld on four occasions.
“We were deceived, not just once, but four times,” he said.
“We both feel very foolish,” Griffin told Melissa Lee, the National MP who had initially raised concerns over the Hirschfeld meeting.
Lee asked whether there were any further, as yet undisclosed, meetings between Curran and RNZ staff. Thompson said that Curran had called another RNZ staff member but it was a conversation about the minister recruiting them for a job. Thompson had been notified about the conversation and said there was no wrongdoing.
Labour MPs tried to turn the meeting back on National, questioning Griffin about a phone call he made to Lee telling her about Hirschfeld’s resignation. Griffin replied it was a "courtesy call" made just three minutes before releasing a statement to the media.
"There's courtesy and then there's collusion," responded Labour MP Paul Eagle.
Griffin dismissed the statement as "ridiculous."
“Are you having trouble understanding? I called as a matter of courtesy on the morning of Tuesday, three minutes prior to the release of our press statement to advise the MP who had asked all the questions around this issue that a press release was coming out,” he said.
Griffin was also questioned about Curran’s decision to call him last Thursday. She left a voice message advising Griffin that if he could not appear in person he could submit a written correction for the record. Griffin was asked by the committee to play the message, but he refused.
MPs were attempting to discover whether Curran had tried to dissuade Griffin from appearing before the committee in person.
"The implication was, as far as I was concerned, that it would be far more satisfactory to all concerned to just put the letter on the table and leave it at that," said Griffin.
The committee has requested the voicemail.