Government media teams that breach the law

The Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, has given government agency media teams a well-deserved kick up the fundamental over some of their dealings with journalists.

Last week he released his report Ready or not? Thematic OIA compliance and practice in 2022. It is highly critical of the way the teams handle some media requests for information. Incredibly, many did not see such requests as falling under the Official Information Act.

The 66-page report revisits 12 Government agencies that were investigated by his predecessor in 2015 and it picks out media teams for particular scrutiny.

Most of the agencies I investigated have a Media Team responsible for handling information requests from the news media. These Media Teams operate separately from centralised OIA Teams, which typically process information requests from the public. While separating requests in this way is not unreasonable in itself, I am concerned that some of the practices associated with this method of request handling has helped to create a false perception that media requests are not OIA requests and, as a result, that agencies do not need to adhere to OIA obligations when handling them.”

The Ombudsman’s report states unequivocally that media information requests are OIA requests, with the core legislative obligations that those confer.

As one might expect, there were examples of excellent service provided by media teams. He singled out the Ministry of Health Manatū Hauora and the Public Service Commission Te Kawa Mataaho. The former was praised for its information handling during the pandemic, while the latter’s performance should be a given – it is the lead agency on implementation of the Government’s commitments under the international Open Government Partnership.

However, he didn’t mince words over some of the actions of media teams: “In most of the agencies I investigated, I saw evidence of breaches of the law.” Continue reading “Government media teams that breach the law”