The watchdog for journalists' rights has announced a new initiative to highlight ongoing problems reporters have getting information from public agencies.
The NOIAs (No Information Awards) are the creation of the Media Freedom Committee, the pan-industry group representing national publishing and broadcasting outlets, including NZME media outlets the New Zealand Herald and Newstalk ZB.
Journalists working for organisations represented on the committee are invited to nominate examples of particularly frustrating interactions with communications staff and officials, primarily involving requests submitted under the Official Information Act (OIA) and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act.
"We want this to be a light-hearted take on a serious subject," said MFC chair Miriyana Alexander.
"Members unanimously and frequently express their concern about the way our journalists are being stymied when asking for information they're entitled to in their role as the eyes and ears of the public, and a check and balance on the powerful."
Alexander said the situation seemed to be getting worse.
"We've heard assurances about accountability from politicians but that message doesn't always seem to be getting through to the people tasked with sharing information."
Common complaints include one agency transferring an OIA or LGOIMA request to another at the end of the statutory 20-working-day response period; dragging responses out for another month; supplying heavily redacted responses; and insisting that requests for even basic information are considered as OIA/LGOIMA requests.
"We believe strongly that there are some people at some agencies who operate outside the spirit - if not the letter - of the legislation," said Alexander.
Complaints about OIA and LGOIMA decisions are on the rise.
Latest data from Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier shows he received 722 complaints about OIA decisions - from media and the wider public - in the first half of 2021, up 8 per cent on the previous six months.
Complaints about LGOIMA decisions rose 30 per cent - to 183 - over the same timeframe.
Figures for the second half of 2021 are due soon.
Categories in the inaugural NOIAs include the Terrier Award, for the most tenacious journalist; the All Black Award, for the most redacted OIA response; and the If You Didn't Laugh Award, for the funniest reason for a response being rejected.
"We do want to acknowledge that there are lots of hard-working people doing their best to help journalists too," added Alexander. "That's why we're including a 'Little Ray Of Sunshine' award for the individual who has gone above and beyond in their commitment to transparency."
The winners will receive a certificate and the journalists who nominate them a $100 book voucher.
"Because, as agencies know, knowledge is power," said Alexander.
The winners will be announced on May 3 - World Press Freedom Day.
• The organisations represented on the Media Freedom Committee are: Newshub, Newsroom, NZ Doctor, NZME (owner of the New Zealand Herald and Newstalk ZB), Radio New Zealand, Stuff, The Spinoff and TVNZ.