Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Hobbit deal

Two weeks ago the Ombudsman ordered the government to release information about its negotiations with New Line over The Hobbit. Today, the government finally obeyed. The full documents are here, and they paint the expected picture of the government bowing to bullying from Warners and Peter Jackson. It also contains a fascinating (but undated) paper presumably from the Ministry of Economic Development about the issue, which states that there is no need to change the law. Finally, its very clear that Peter Jackson really hates MEAA negotiator Simon Whipp - and it seems that we had this law change forced upon us just so a Big Man didn't have to deal with someone he didn't like.

Contrary to the government's assertion, none of this information is "commercially sensitive". It is however politically sensitive, both for the government and for Jackson. But that's not a good reason to keep it secret. They made their political bed, and now they get to lie in it.

Meanwhile, what interests me as an OIA geek is the government's repeated use of the legal professional privilege clause to cover material which is simply not covered by it. According to the Ombudsman's practice guidelines, section 9(2)(h) applies only to "communication[s] from a professional legal adviser, retained in that capacity for the purpose of providing confidential legal advice to a client". But Brownlee is using it to cover the random legal views of Hollywood executives. Its not legal advice to the government from their lawyers, and to the extent that it talks about such advice (from context some of it discusses a legal opinion from Crown Law), that privilege has pretty obviously been waived. Once again the government is abusing the Act to keep things secret for their political convenience, and that is not something we should tolerate.