FOI policy bad news for weekly newspapers

Last week, the Clark administration announced a major change in how it handles freedom of information requests. Those requests are one of the few tools journalists have to access records the government doesn't want British Columbians to see - from lobbying letters written by powerful private interests to the contracts awarded to government friends and insiders. Our reward for the hard work that goes into filing those requests is an exclusive story - information our competitors don't have.

But the government has made it more difficult for journalists at monthly magazines and weekly newspapers to reap that reward because it's now going to be publicly posting those records three business days after they give them to the applicant. In many cases, that will give daily and broadcast news outlets a chance to steal those stories before the weeklies and monthlies have a chance to publish them.

The media should be outraged by this policy. The media should be protesting this policy. And British Columbians should be concerned too because it impedes the market force that encourages the media to hold public institutions and officials to account. But, instead of protests, that policy has been greeted - for the most part - with silence. And perhaps that is an outrage in and of itself.

2 Comments

I don't think Twitter would agree. I understand the good fellow @rantingincr is quite angry and the BC Conservatives are going to make hay of this.

Well perhaps somebody should tell them there's a reason why the third jersey for the BCLibs says BCLibabes... they're babes in the woods of 21st century government. 1 week max, this 72 hour hold is barely acceptable if you ask me.

Given the rapid nature of today's news cycle, this seems like it was always going to be inevitable. Weekly and monthly publications must already be struggling to compete. If a more open government documents policy is the straw that breaks, so be it. With a more technologically wired populace, were they ever going to stay in the race long-term anyway? I've filed FOI requests and been pleased with the results...however, if those documents had been accessible easier and earlier and someone had gotten to it first - the public still wins. Media outlets are there for the public and should have no problem competing in a new arena. If the journalists don't work for the weekly and monthlies - they will work somewhere else.

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