Some public servants toy with OIA requests

02/12/2008

The free flow of information is one of the foundation stones of democracy, that’s why we have an Official Information Act.

But  some public servants are playing games with OIA requests.

The Office of the Ombudsmen is concerned some parts of the public service have been deliberately delaying responses to Official Information requests.

In the office’s Annual Report to Parliament, Chief Ombudsmen Beverley Wakem says the practice is unacceptable and subverts the purpose of the legislation.

Beverley Wakem says the Office has observed an increasing tendency by a few government departments and Ministerial offices to ignore the provisions of the Official Information Act over the timing of responses to requesters.

“While in some cases this was clearly a misunderstanding of their obligations, there is also a regrettable tendency to game the system and delay responses until the complainants’ interest in the matter had passed,” she says.

Ignorance is no excuse and it appears that some of the delays are a deliberate attempt to hide information.

New Zealand has a proud record of being relatively free of corruption.  This sort of game playing by the previous administration and their staff threatens that so I hope John Key makes it clear to his cabinet that their obligation is to ensure they and staff in ministries and departments make information freely available unless there is a very, very good reason for not doing so.

Kiwblog suggests that departments and offices which have been playing games be named and shamed.

Roarprawn gives an example of an answer to an OIA request being edited.

goNZofreakpower links this to the ACC blowout and lists the major offenders.


Clark Shoots Messenger

30/06/2008

A tape of Helen Clark’s speech to a journalism conference in which she criticised the media has been released after an Official Information Act request by a member of the public and the intervention of the ombudsman.

On the tape, Clark is severely critical of journalists for their alleged lack of knowledge of world events, historical context, and “letting the facts get in the way of the story.”

Shouldn’t the criticism be for not  letting the facts get in the way of the story?

She claims TV3 political editor Duncan Garner had told a seminar that “politicians always lie”.

“I’m sorry, politicians don’t always lie. I’m quite appalled by that statement. I think it’s important that scrutiny is not confused with cynicism,” Clark said.

Of course politicians don’t always lie, but Garner says what he actually said was that the first instinct of politicians when cornered was to lie.

Clark says there are large gaps in journalists’ general knowledge, and in geography, sociology, and economic matters.

“Very few journalists have any comprehension of the range of relations New Zealand has, the range of issues New Zealand is involved in.”

Most journalists were too young to remember seminal events in the country’s history, she says.

“Today’s political editors of the two main TV channels were barely in their infancy, if born, when Norman Kirk brought the troops back from Vietnam, the Springbok tour, sent the frigate to Mururoa – events that to many of our age group were seminal events,” Clark said.

“Muldoon and David Lange are basically ancient history too and world war one and two are antedivulian.”

Lack of institutional knowledge in newsrooms is a concern but she’s got to remember that it’s not only young people who don’t share her memories of what she considers important. It’s 27 years since I started journalism and I don’t remember Kirk bringing the troops back from Vietnam – I would have been at high school at the time.  The Springbok tour happened a few months after I started work and I remember reporting on it, but it isn’t nearly as important to me as it obviously is to her.

Clark said trends in journalism included “making the story all about them”, a “rush to judgment” on blogging, a refusal to send journalists on overseas trips, and competition that was leading to inaccuracies.

“There wouldn’t be a day go by when something isn’t just plain wrong,” she said.

There are journalists who blog but not all blogs are journalism and not all rush – some of us take a carefully considered path to judgement 😉

I’ll concede that mistakes happen too often and it must be frustrating – but sometimes it’s not the reporting that’s wrong when it doesn’t reflect your own view.

Clark said New Zealand was fortunate to have a free media, however, and politicians still needed journalists as much as the media needed political news.  

Clark courted journalists when she became Prime Minister, and she got a pretty gentle run for a time. Now they’re reporting a different view of the world from hers and she’s taking it personally.

[Update: Karl du Fresne has another view on the media here]


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