The spin on spin doctors

Helen Clark was pilloried for having more comms staff than anyone else.  National’s successful policy plank was to reduce the non-productive talkers and schemers.

The number of spin doctors and communications staff in government departments is on the increase again even after National swore to rein in the numbers.

National put a cap on the public service staff numbers in 2008 and also swore to cut back on communications and public relations staff after criticising the numbers employed under the former Labour Government.

It managed to get numbers down from 321 in 2008 to a low of 263 in mid-2011. However, numbers have gradually increased to 288 – an increase largely driven by the establishment of the Canterbury Earthquake Authority. Cera now has 26 communications staff – up from 18 last year and six in its first full year of existence. Of those, about eight are marketing staff for the central city rebuild. The numbers are also only for core government departments, so do not include staff employed by the Defence Force or Police.

Communications staff in big ministries including Education, Social Development and Inland Revenue have also increased over the past three years, partly because of mergers with other units.

In all fairness, most of these comms staff do nothing more than answer screeds of dumb OIA questions from citizens that have no consideration for the actual costs involved in continuously asking for answers to the most mundane of questions.   

There has been increasing focus on the relationship between spin doctors, media and bloggers after Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics revealed cases of staff from the Prime Minister’s office working with controversial blogger CameronSlater on some topics, such as an OIA release on the SIS briefing to Phil Goff by Warren Tucker.

Many media were concerned about the way Official Information Act requests were being handled by communications staff with delays common and suspicion that information was being withheld for political reasons.

The government should stop dicking about with there OIAs.   The whole culture of trying to control and spin OIA results is what is behind the growth of spin doctors.

All it is doing is creating a culture of distrust, and the ridiculous delays (or in some cases, the ridiculous speed) at which answers are provided do nothing but fuel a look where complaints have to be made to the Ombudsman.

After ongoing concerns about the increased pressure on the Ombudsman’s workload, extra resources were provided in last year’s Budget.

It is typical that when a new government takes over, they are quite happy to follow the OIA process, as it will reveal all the faults of the previous government.  As they start building their own track record, they suddenly want to curtail and spin this process, causing an snowballing process where they want to say less and less, obstruct more, need more people to deal with the queries, and the Ombudsman gets overloaded.

The appearance of “open government” is lost.  The appearance of secrecy and arrogance is fueled.

This is the normal process in the life cycle of a government.


– Claire Trevett, NZ Herald

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story.  And when he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet.   Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet, and as a result he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist that takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him.  But you can’t ignore him.