Hollywood gets heavy over Hobbit

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2013

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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.

The Council of Trade Unions and Radio New Zealand have been trying to get the documents released under the Official Information Act since November 2010.

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.

Wingnut was also quoted in the ruling: "I can categorically assure you that if the above information was released and a similar situation occurred in the future, neither myself nor Wingnut Films would be inclined to help the Government again with such a candid level of advice and opinion."

It was not confirmed whether "I" was Jackson, and Wingnut refused to comment yesterday.

CTU president Helen Kelly dismissed New Line's arguments. "They can threaten all they like. The Ombudsman's looked at it and says [their argument] is rubbish."

If the documents were embarrassing for New Line or the Government, the negotiations could not have been conducted in a proper or professional way, she said. "The New Zealand public deserve to know."

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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Ms Kelly said the CTU wanted to see the Crown Law Office report which formed the legal justification for the Government's decision to weigh into the dispute over actors' rights which prompted the deal, and was considering its options. The report continues to be withheld by the Ombudsman because it is legally privileged.

- Fairfax Media

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