Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran now regrets meeting former RNZ head of news Carol Hirschfeld at Astoria café in Wellington last December.
That meeting led to Ms Hirschfeld’s resignation today and political discomfort for Ms Curran.
Ms Hirschfeld resigned after she was forced to admit to RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson that the meeting had been pre-arranged. She had repeatedly told Mr Thompson the meeting had simply been a chance encounter at a café.
Ms Curran says at the time she thought there was nothing wrong with meeting Ms Hirschfeld at the minister's request for an informal catch-up to talk about the news media but realises she was wrong.
"I regret it. It was a mistake."
She says she had initially considered it an informal meeting but had corrected it by placing the meeting in her diary afterward.
At the beginning of March Mr Thompson and RNZ chairman Richard Griffin appeared before Parliament’s economic development, science and innovation select committee and were questioned at length by National MP Melissa Lee about the meeting.
Both men described it as chance encounter when Ms Hirschfeld stopped to buy a coffee at a café.
Ms Curran says that after the select committee hearing her office contacted RNZ twice to correct the information Mr Thompson and Mr Griffin had given to the committee.
A spokesman for RNZ says it was another message from the minister’s office last week that prompted further questioning of Ms Hirschfeld and her belated acknowledgement the meeting had been arranged and that it was not coincidental.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended Ms Curran in Parliament, saying the minister had quickly corrected answers she gave to initial questions from Melissa Lee in February.
At a press conference this afternoon, Ms Curran says she initiated the meeting and they discussed the state of New Zealand media. " It was not a secret meeting," she said
RNZ staff are not permitted to hold meetings with politicians other than for newsgathering purposes.
Mr Thompson said in a statement that it was important he put the record straight about the circumstances of the meeting.
“I am now assessing options for filling the role left vacant by Carol’s resignation.”
“In the meantime, Glen Scanlon as RNZ head of news and digital will take over Carol’s direct reports, effective immediately.”
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