Editorial: Information is a two-way thing
In many ways they are one of life's referees.
When an argument between a publicly funded organisation and a person trying to find out some information hits a brick wall, the ombudsman is there.
But, according to a report by Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem released yesterday, more and more complaints are heading her and her colleagues' way.
In the last year there have been 10,636 complaints to her office, a significant rise of 22 per cent on the previous year.
In many cases the system works like this.
A person or, in many cases, an organisation asks a council, a DHB, or a Government agency for a piece or pieces of information.
Those organisations have a set amount of time to respond. Then if they don't respond with the information asked for, a complaint can go to the ombudsman to sort out.
From a media perspective, more of those organisations use every delay tactic possible before releasing information that the public have a right to know.
Some of those organisations knowingly take their time and are happy for the matter to go to the ombudsman because they know that will take even more time.
In many cases there is huge value in the delay. In years gone by journalists could ring up a contact for information and it was freely given over the phone or mailed out.
While there are exceptions, that flow of information now is not as forthcoming as it once was.
Teams of ratepayer and taxpayer-funded communications staff are paid to look after the best interests of their employers, and that does not always mean the best interest of ratepayers or taxpayers.
The other tactic to put people off getting their hands on information is to charge astronomical fees for finding and sending the data.
If public money pays for something, the people who are shelling out the dollars deserve to know.
The delay tactics may be well known, but eventually the truth comes out and all the obstacles put in the way are revealed for what they really are.
ONE MORE THING...
It's not often a big name TV star drops in to visit your high school, but that's what happened to Palmerston North Girls' High School student and fan Lauren Hutchinson. Downton Abbey's Hugh Bonneville made a surprise appearance at the school, much to Lauren's surprise.
It was awesome to see the photos of her reaction when the Emmy-nominated actor turned up. A simply priceless and memorable moment for Lauren and her classmates.