The OIA is for all

January 14th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Sam Sachdeva at The Press reports:

Tobacco companies are trying to pry confidential documents from government departments as they battle a possible crackdown on their trade.

Really? Are they breaking into offices? Blackmailing officials? Stealing secrets?

Information obtained by the Sunday Star-Times revealed legal representatives for several tobacco companies filed at least nine Official Information Act () requests to the Ministry of Health in the past two years for documentation relating to plans to ban brand marks and logos on cigarette packets.

Oh my God. A company asked under the Official Information Act for government papers regarding a proposed policy which would have a massive impact on their business. What a scandal.

Here’s what even funnier. The information on these OIA requests would have been obtained itself under the OIA. So whomever planted this story has used the OIA to attack someone else for using the OIA.

The companies’ requests covered a wide array of information, including documents relating to:

All communication about plain packaging between the Ministry of Health and its Australian, Canadian and British equivalents;

how plain packaging would affect youth and adult smoking rates in New Zealand;

how plain packaging would impact on the intellectual property rights of tobacco manufacturers;

and whether plain packaging would violate any of New Zealand’s trade and investment treaty obligations.

This seems absolutely appropriate requests to make. In fact such info should be public automatically.

British American Tobacco was the most prolific company, with its legal representatives filing six OIA requests during the period.

Six over two years. Hell I sometimes file six OIA requests in a single month.

The requests were largely declined, with Turia citing the “substantial collation or research” required to gather much of the information and the confidentiality of some documents.

However, several Cabinet papers related to plain packaging reform were released, while the companies were told that other information it had requested would soon be publicly available.

The director of anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health (), Ben Youdan, believed the companies were trying to “hold up and bog down” civil servants who had to process the requests.

Nonsense. It annoys me that a taxpayer funded lobby group is complaining about the cost to taxpayers of government departments obeying the OIA law.

If the companies were filing a request every few weeks, they may have a point. But nine requests over two years is stuff all.

If I wrote this story I would ask the MoH how many OIA requests in total they received over two years, and what proportion came from tobacco companies. I’d also ask ASH how many OIA requests have they made.

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15 Responses to “The OIA is for all”

  1. Vinick (216 comments) says:

    And how many the Sunday Star Times have made.

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  2. TripeWryter (716 comments) says:

    Good commentary, David. The same thoughts occurred to me when I read it.

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  3. Manolo (13,746 comments) says:

    The anti-corporate mindset of the left-leaning MSM comes to the fore.

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  4. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    I can understand why the reporter wrote the story.

    But I can’t understand why the editor didn’t ask for the reporter’s resignation. This is idiotic stuff.

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  5. Archer (208 comments) says:

    Sam Sachdeva, another hack to add to the list. The wording and information is so heavily slanted in favour of one side that I bet the print edition would fall off the table.

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  6. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    I have no time for tobacco companies, but I agree that this story is a beat up.

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  7. Manolo (13,746 comments) says:

    Don’t discount him. The ignorant hack Sachdeva could become The Press’s editor in a few years time.
    All within the realm of possibility in the hopeless and amauterish world of NZ journalism.

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  8. gump (1,647 comments) says:

    I have some serious misgivings about ASH.

    This isn’t the first time that they have misled the media.

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  9. marcw (247 comments) says:

    Your second story today about the incompetence or inadequacy of our MSM (viz. “PPTA Wrong” earlier); it really is embarrassing and a shame that if they continue in this way, we will all be the losers as one-by-one they are all closed down as they will no longer have a financial base of subscribers to continue.

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  10. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Even allowing for the fact it’s still really the silly season and thus not much real news about, that’s a particularly silly story.

    What would have been interesting would have been that hoary old fall-back, the vox pop – on whether those bizarre advertisements run by the tobacco industry were successful in changing the opinion of a single person (other than to cause puzzled bemusement).

    I presume they tested them on focus groups before spending to havr them broadcast, but I can only assume the focus group members contrived to play an expensive practical joke.

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  11. eszett (2,408 comments) says:

    I believe the story is not about the tobacco companies putting in OIA requests per se, but the sort and amount of information they are requesting. It’s not about them requesting infprmation, but them abusing the process by requesting so much information that they ministries are bogged down by answering them.

    The number of OIA requests are misleading, as one request could relate to a single page or thousand and thousand of pages.

    What you left out:


    The company’s first request, sent in May 2011, consisted of 63 separate points for documentation on plain packaging reform.

    Philip Morris also sent two requests, while Imperial Tobacco filed one during the two-year period.

    The requests were largely declined, with Turia citing the “substantial collation or research” required to gather much of the information and the confidentiality of some documents.

    However, several Cabinet papers related to plain packaging reform were released, while the companies were told that other information it had requested would soon be publicly available.

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  12. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    @eszett:

    The problem with OIA requests is that “you don’t know what you don’t know” and bureacrats are masters at reading the narrowest possible interpretation into any request, and conversely at saying that requests asking for, say “any and all documents relating to…” are too broad and would “require substantial collation or research”.

    So you’re left with no option but to try to imagine every piece of paper and electronic communication that may conceivably have passed between anyone and their dog, laboriously listing your guesses, and hoping you hit more targets than you miss.

    It’s the democratic equivalent of playing “Battleships”.

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  13. Michael (909 comments) says:

    You do know the world is divided into “good” people and “bad” people, don’t you? To qualify to be bad you must not be approved by Labour/the Greens. You hear it all the time when they call any policy initiative “looking after their big business mates” or “for the greedy, not the needy” rather than providing a reasoned debate on the issue.

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  14. Reid (16,442 comments) says:

    This was why the journo and the sub-editor, bless them, did it.

    http://www.activistpost.com/2013/01/using-emotional-labels-to-sell-agendas.html

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  15. Alfred (52 comments) says:

    It must be a conspiracy that companies are asking for information under the OIA. Clearly anyone who asks for information from a government department must be against the state and therefore must be stopped from finding out anything.

    This ‘story’ is a complete load of horse shit and the so-called journalist should have seen that the wool was being pulled over his eyes by this anti smoking group.

    If I was the tobacco companies I’d flood the govt with thousands of specific OIA requests and fuck them up with highly paid lawyers should they refuse to comply. Turia thinks she’s above all this and the OIA doesn’t apply to her. Well I’d flood her office with hundreds of OIAs as well and see how she (and her staff) like working 24:7 complying with an Act that actually assists democracy.

    Tobacco companies are way too soft.

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