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?