Comment

Carol Hirschfeld keeps her head down

Some commentators have rebuked the media over its lack of vigour in questioning Carol Hirschfeld on why she lied to RNZ CEO Paul Thompson about her meeting with Clare Curran.

The presumption being that the media is looking after one of its own.

They are wrong. Hirschfeld’s phone will be full of voice messages and texts asking for interviews.

Stories about high profile media types like Hosking, Henry, Mau, Garner or Hirschfeld hitting turbulence are major generators of audience interest in all forms of the media.

The idea of going easy on a colleague doesn’t even enter calculations when competition for audience attention is as desperate as it is now.

Newsroom, like all other media organisations has asked Hirschfeld for an interview and been turned down. It is highly unlikely she will ever discuss the reasons for misleading her boss.

Being an experienced journalist, Hirschfeld knows that no matter what explanation she produces it won’t change the fact that she told an outright lie.

While there may be some sort of plausible explanation for not telling the truth when first asked about the meeting, there is no way out of the pickle she’s created by not owning up when challenged subsequently.

Close colleagues of Hirschfeld say she is devastated by what has happened.

What was probably a catch-up by two people excited to discuss the impact of an impending funding boost for RNZ set off a catastrophic chain of events that neither would have imagined.

The excitement was understandable when you look at it in context.

The development of a high-quality video component to complement RNZ’s existing strong public radio broadcasting would be close to, if not the high point of their careers.

If they had been plotting to circumvent or undermine RNZ’s CEO and Board they would not have done it over coffee in a crowded, noisy Wellington café frequented by journalists and lobbyists.

The so called “hiding in plain sight” theory is too conspiratorial by far.

The man who let Hirschfeld go will also be upset. In addition to any personal feelings he experienced over the resignation of a close colleague, Paul Thompson will be unhappy with being thrust into public gaze in this way.

It has given ammunition to those who think the money earmarked for RNZ+ should be spent on other things.

RNZ+ is the name Curran has given the television service she wants RNZ to provide. A service the Government could cough up around $30 million for.

The plans for RNZ+ have not been revealed in any detail but RNZ Chairman, Richard Griffin, told a select committee last Thursday that there had been nine different versions before he (and presumably the Board) Thompson, Hirschfeld and Curran all agreed.

The final plan seems to be pared-back version of a linear (conventional) TV channel - more of a bulking-up of the existing video that RNZ is currently providing.

Sources with knowledge of the plans say there was no fundamental disagreement between Thompson and Hirschfeld over the direction.

RNZ+ will need to carry plenty of strong content to satisfy its current audience but it also needs to be innovative enough to recruit the younger demographic that its radio product has been successfully doing.

So, who will end up with the tricky task of making it happen now Hirschfeld is gone?

Thompson will be tempted to turn one of his trusted lieutenants and current head of digital, Glen Scanlon.

Scanlan is now acting head of news and regarded (inside and outside RNZ) as highly competent.

Former TV3 and TVNZ producer Tim Watkin will also be pressing his claims. Watkin is RNZ’s executive producer of podcasts and series.

Having had a spell as deputy editor of the Listener his journalistic credentials are good and he will know more about producing TV programmes than most RNZ executives.

Thompson also has Stephen Smith to turn to. Smith worked for TVNZ, Vodafone and Maori TV before taking charge of branding and marketing at RNZ. He has a strong understanding of TV and new media.

And what of Clare Curran now?

Supporters of better public service media will be hoping she recovers from her self-inflicted wounds and sees through her plan to boost a part of the media that has been neglected and in the case of television (Maori TV aside) abandoned.

When Curran picked up the portfolio there was an expectation public broadcasting would get some overdue attention, particularly given the opposition spokesperson, Melissa Lee, also has a strong interest and knowledge in the area.

Lee was a TV producer before she entered Parliament.

The Hirschfeld saga has damaged Curran but whether it will mean less money for RNZ+ won’t be known until May 17 when Finance Minister Grant Robertson delivers his first budget.

It could be $30million, it could be less, or it could be zero..

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