Friday, October 04, 2019

The government needs to tell people about the OIA

The Ombudsman has been surveying people about their knowledge of the OIA and the right to information. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that widespread:

The Chief Ombudsman says too many New Zealanders were in the dark over their right to access official information.

Peter Boshier said an independent survey released yesterday on community attitudes towards freedom of information, showed that while most wanted access to official information, just over half were aware they could ask for it.


"Although 78 percent of people thought it was important to be able to access government information, only 60 percent actually knew that they had the right to do so, and that's very, very disappointing."

Mr Boshier said while it was still a majority, he believed it was a slim one for New Zealand.

"It suggests that a large section of our population don't know about this important democratic right.

"I think what this is telling us is that although we say, and proclaim that we are a country which is very accountable and very open, those who believe that is so, doesn't reflect we're anywhere near where we'd like to be."

Its not really surprising. While "documents released under the Official Information Act" is a common phrase in our political reporting, not everyone follows politics. Meanwhile, its not like the government goes to great lengths to tell people about their rights - its not like there's a long-running advertising campaign about the OIA, or agency websites are plastered with the message "want to know something? Ask us!" While they're not quite putting up a "beware of the leopard" sign, agencies aren't exactly keen on creating work for themselves by encouraging requests. But that's something they should be doing, as part of their basic function. Because freedom of information isn't just about MPs - its about your local school, your hospital, your city council; its not just about whether politicans are getting advice about climate change, but about decisions to exclude students, fund certain operations, or enforce noise-control bylaws in your street. And those are things which affect and interest a hell of a lot more people than just us politics wonks.