The information must be released

Alex Fensome at Stuff reports:

Film giant Warner Brothers has told the Government it will jeopardise future film investment if it releases “sensitive information” about the deal to keep production of The Hobbit in New Zealand.

Ombudsman David McGee has ordered the release of 18 previously withheld Government documents about the 2010 deal.

They include emails between Warner Bros’ New Line studio, Sir Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films and the Government about the union dispute that threatened to take production offshore.

The Government, which had refused to release the documents, can now prevent their publication only by issuing an order in council, signed by the governor-general. Such a power has never been used.

It is not unusual for an information release to go to the Ombudsman for a ruling. As far as I am aware the Government has not indicated in any way that it would over-rule the Ombudsman. But it goes without saying, that of course they should not.

In Mr McGee’s ruling, New Line warns that, “if the Government is not willing to adequately protect this sensitive information from disclosure, this will operate as a major disincentive to motion picture studios as well as local and foreign talent to utilise New Zealand as a location for future productions”.

It said the documents reflected “negotiations and innermost thinking, including certain strategic decisions, legal and personal opinions, offers from third-party governments and other private information”. If made public, the information would damage New Line’s business relationships and impair its ability to negotiate with unions and third parties, it said.

There are a number of grounds on which information can be with-held. The Ombudsman is the authority that decides on if the information qualifies. He has decided it does not. Companies should know when corresponding with Government that pretty much anything they say is likely to be made public unless it qualifies to be with-held.

Prime Minister John Key said the Government was “quite relaxed” about releasing the paperwork and he expected it to happen.

It had not released the information in the previous two years because of commercial negotiations during the filming of the movies.

While he acknowledged that Warner Bros and Wingnut did not want the information released, he said it was unlikely the Government would use its veto powers.


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