Government moves to suppress media market force

Have you ever filed a freedom of information request to find out something the government doesn't want you to know about? Chances are the answer to that question is no. Instead, the citizenry has essentially delegated that responsibility to the media. But the incentive for journalists to file those requests isn't just to serve the public interest. It's to get an exclusive story that will attract an audience - whether they be readers, listeners or viewers. That's the media's reward for putting in the time, effort and sometimes considerable money necessary to use the freedom of information process to hold public officials and institutions to account. But the Campbell administration may be moving to suppress that market force.

In an interview with The Vancouver Sun's Chad Skelton, a spokesperson confirmed the records the government releases in response to freedom of information requests soon won't just be given to the applicant. Instead, they'll be given to everyone - including competing journalists who will likely get an easy story out of someone else's hard work. Which means - depending on how that release system is structured - reporters may no longer get an exclusive story out of filing those requests.

This looks like an insidious attempt by government to reduce the demand for secrets that can only be revealed using freedom of information requests. And if you think that doesn't matter, think about this: how many everyday British Columbians will be willing to spend 40 hours or more a week, out of the goodness of their civic heart, filing requests journalists may no longer have as much of an incentive to file?

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Surely the accredited journalists could have seen this coming?

If ink-stained wretches had been living up to their storied reputations, they would've been drilling down and revealing tons of things -- the BC Rail story, for one thing -- before things got to the sorry state which became clear to everyone after police raided the BC Legislature.

But big media which is paid (i.e., accredited) to keep the public fully informed, let Campbell slither past with little more than his "I know nothing more than you know" stuff. Even when Prime Minister Paul Martin showed up, it was [shrug, shrug] "I know nothing, too."

This gave rise to a group of bloggers who feared that we'd never know what had caused such a massive public asset to slip out of public ownership and into private pockets, if WE didn't try to pick up the slack. And we did.

But Big Media let it become more and more difficult -- not less difficult -- for information to be pried out by the F.o.I. route ... or even from BC Supreme Court transcripts. It even became difficult to find out WHEN a BC Rail Political Corruption Trial hearing or trial session was scheduled. That's awful. But Big Media kept pretending, for YEARS, that there was no story in BC Rail, or that "nobody cared". Or as Lucinda Chodan (Editor in Chief of Times Colonist) said to me, "When there is news, we plan to publish it." And didn't (not even when the guy police had been tracking when they raided the BC Legislature, went on trial, was found guilty of cocaine trafficking, and sentenced to 9 years ... the trial taking place just a few blocks down the street in Victoria. Not a word, even then).

I would go so far as to say that Big Media encouraged the negativity by repeating and repeating certain less significant things until it became off-putting.

It's not too late. It's NEVER too late ... even though it's way later than it needed to be. Let's see Big Accredited Media begin to examine, explain, and encourage the Public Inquiry which could do what the BC Rail Political Corruption Trial failed to do: tell us exactly how the corruption happened ... and with that information, help us to know how to clean up the rot. I always thought that's what media was supposed to do.

I sure would like to FOI the MCFD about the autism program reforms that have turned into an embrassment to a hero of the BCLib Cause backing Falcon, but I suspect I'd have to pay several thousand dollars for the records. Bucks I don't have.

Oh and anybody think the BCNDP wouldn't pull opaque governance tricks if G*d forbid they got into government? Give me a break!

At least w/ a former CTV anchor working for Christy Clark, hopefully the Victoria press gallery can grow some teeth & negotiate a fair deal. After all many such as I take the press gallery as the real Opposition...

Purposes of this Act
2(1) The purposes of this Act are to make public bodies more accountable to the public and to protect personal privacy by
(a)giving the public a right of access to records


See the above excerpt from the BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. IF the BC government decides to go this route, they are increasing their accountability to the public by increasing the availability of requested records.

Might this mean a culture shift whereby bloggers and/or largers media outlets are not seen as being such an essential tool for informing the public? Sure, it might.

In a world where records rightfully belonging to the public are accessible to the public, the public will dictate the necssity of media and political spin-doctors because they will (for the first time ever) have access to the raw data used to create the news. If the media wanted to be more accountable for their stories, they could follow suit (obviously redacting information that might identify condfidential sources of information).

The only problem will be if the original requester has to pay for the information, that is then shared to all. If a government body opts for open disclosure, all fees accruing to the original requester should be waived.

Ideally, all FOI requests across government should be published on a single website and sortable by agency, year, and requester type. The website should include the following:
1) Name of agency(s)
2) Classification of requester (media, political party, individual, other)
3) Date of request
4) Request synopsis
5) Deadline for intial review.
6) Cost estimate
7) pdf file of released results
8) Date public body requested extension
9) Reason given for extension request
10) If request denied, documentation involving FOI Commisioner
11) FOI Commissioner's decision.

Ideally, we wouldn't need such a site: all information wants to be free.

Big Media parrots the narrative of the politicians; bureaucrats; media spokes mouth of (whatever department). Investigative journalists are few. They have failed the task society handed them and we are weaker, more uninformed than ever. That's handy for the 'politicians; bureaucrats; media spokes mouth of (whatever department)' because life in the shadows is safe. It's also easier on the MSM; the task is safer; cheaper; the consumer demanding almost zilch by way of content.

If the bureaucrats tell the politicians to change the rules this will lead to a decline in FoI requests. Why would the pace of releases change. It would not. Why would the content of the releases change as there would not by less black out. Changing the releases rules does not mean the government will become more open. *They know that. See first paragraph.

(a)giving the public a right of access to records

Access to a record does not mean no censoring of the record.

*They know that.

*politicians; bureaucrats; media spokes mouth of (whatever department)

@BC Public Servant so what are you doing about it that is your job why are you being paid in the first place if citizens are doing it. What exactly do you do all day, have you considered that.

So what are you doing about it, that is why your getting paid, what do you do all day,wait for lunch, this is your responsibility not ours! Why is you Public Servants never seem to get why are you there in the first place.

Right on BC Mary!!!!

1) With a 1 week per ream of paper (1,000 pages) hold, I agree w/ BC.Public.Servant.

2) Furthermore, I'd sure love to see a FOI a day into MCFD. Lob one on the autism policy of Min Polak, lob one on all e-mails from the Minister to the Advocate, lob one of all e-mails between Deputy Minister & Premier's Office... you get the idea.

The autism issue isn't going away, BTW. Recently Reid Johnson, President of the Health Sciences Association demanded "Minister Polak and her government to explain these cuts". Also Chris McInosh recently wrote the Vancovuer Sun noting EIBI did work & has "wonder what it will take for government to reinstate this program, expanding it to all children with autism in B.C. whose parents want it". A FOI costing at least several hundred bucks sure would help...

Sure wish I had them right now... it'd change the game. I'm into game-changers and open government.

Off hot.

This overestimates the value to the public interest of the FOIs submitted by audience-driven media.

The FOIs are designed by media and the opposition parties to garner an audience. They are also selectively chosen by the FOI requesters to be either scandalous (in the case of the media) or place the government in a poor light (in the case of the opposition). FOI'd information that is scandalous or damaging does not necessarily equate with being in the public interest.

Think of what valuable information about the inner workings of a policy, or how that policy was arrived at, or how effective it is in practice could be revealed through an FOI. However, a party just looking for scandal won't necessarily request it or bring it to light because it's not clean, not sound-bitable, and its only real affect is to affect the news cycle on a particular day.

Let me ask you this. How many news stories have you heard about an FOI that revealed that a government policy wasn't working and should be reneged on or modified? Few, if any. Now think of how many "wasted spending" FOI news stories you've heard... think Olympic tickets.

If the government wants to release an FOI to everyone, more power to them. The media will just have to race to write the first story on it, like any other political news story. And people who care about policy, activist groups and informed citizens should be encouraged to put in the requests in the first place.

The real issue is the public service exemption in the FOI act. Fees can be waived if it is shown that the information is in the public interest and the requester is able to disseminate that information. Since the second prong of that -- the dissemination -- will now be not in play, won't it be cheaper for people to put in FOI requests, or at least, easier for people to have fees waived?

I have submitted an FOI request before. I wish the department in question had posted their response publicly. Then everyone could see what a terrible job they did filling it.

As a long-time private citizen filer of FOI's I have to agree wholeheartedly with BC Mary on this issue.

I spent 100's of hours working on requests, reviews and appeals specific to private seniors care and housing in BC. I discovered that the new regulations were woefully inadequate to protect the health and safety of seniors in care. Did the media report it? Did they dig deeper? Nope.

I'm totally with you on this one, Sean.

Jeff Lee's revelations yesterday about Vanoc's "communications strategy" to save Mr Furlong's butt in the luge track controversy illustrate that those with something to hide will not hesitate to manipulate market forces to undermine and kill investigative/ enterprise reporting.

Meanwhile, the CRTC is quietly planning to lift the ban on broadcasters disseminating false or misleading news (or more accurately to make it unenforceable).

Very disturbing times!

I believe the public will generally be quick to side with you if you stand up and sound the alarm on these things - and in the end it only highlights why it's so important to support sound, independent journalism.

I'd strongly encourage those who aren't already subscribing to support your blog to consider doing so!

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