Access to Information: Access to Information: Jamaica The use of Access to information in Investigative journalism: An International perspective The use of Access to information in Investigative journalism: An International perspective
“There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a trick,there is not a swindle, there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy.”Joseph Pulitzer
What is a right to Information? • New Human right • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).Article 19 • Knowledge is Power
What is a right to information? • It is a right to know what your government is doing and to view the information they hold or create. • The opposite of secrecy • It is the acceptance of the principle that the Government does not own the information which it holds but it belongs to the people
Why is a right to information important? • Greater accountability and transparency • Allows fulfillment of civil and political rights • Prevents and reveals corruption • Increases public participation in a democracy • Lack of information can deny us food, minimum wage, medicine, hurricane relief and a hospital.
What is its value to society? • “ Inequality of access to information is a form of poverty” Amartya Sen Noble Peace Prize Economist • Thai School • Moratorium Crime Statistics- South Africa
Do we have a right to information in Jamaica ? • The Access to Information Act 2002 • Section 6 of the Jamaica ATI Act 2002 • "Every person shall have a right to obtain access to an official document other than an exempt document." • Passed in Parliament July 22, 2002. • Brought into effect January 4, 2004
What has the experience been in implementation? • Twenty (20) Public Authorities under the Act • December 2004, 279 applications for access to Government. • By July 2005 all Public Authorities will be bought under Act • ATI Appeal Tribunal has received ten (10) appeals
What types of requests have been made? Persons have made requests for:- • Cost of the stay of President Aristide • The number of cases concerning persons being beaten by Police Officers while in custody • The contract for the renovations of the Governor of the Bank of Jamaica’s House • The ratio of nurses to doctors at a Hospital in Montego Bay • The basis for the grant of a duty concession to a popular entertainer
What is Investigative Journalism? • Investigative journalism is ... • In-depth, long-term research & reporting • Documentary research and use of public and private records, following the paper trail • Extensive interviewing • Crime-solving tools and methods (undercover reporting, hidden cameras, surveillance) • Revealing information others want to keep secret or information not known to the public Materials form Conference on Investigative Journalism in South East Asia
Why is ATI important for journalists? • Investigative Journalists need access to credible reliable information • Important for journalists who want to rely on facts instead of innuendo • Journalists depend on having a free flow of information • Journalists are watchdogs • Information access no longer discretionary or solely dependant on sources
What is the role of ATI in Investigative Reporting? • ATI can play an important role in investigative journalism. • It can be a Story e.g.refusal • It can be used to build a story • The use of ATI is based on Document oriented reporting
Importance of ATI to Journalists • ATI is simply a tool of getting information out. • A successful or semi-successful FOI request ought to be the springboard for follow-up • ATI requests can throws extra light on an issue, changes the complexion of a problem or otherwise brings out a good story.
How have journalists used their RTI in other countries ?- United States • Pictures of coffins of Soldiers who died in IRAQ • Minutes of meetings of energy industry with Dick Cheney • Federal program to give money to large fast food companies to advertise over seas ($200 million)
How have journalists used their RTI in other countries – United States? • The Albuquerque Tribune filed requests for information on victims of governmental radiation experiments in the early 1990s • The Dayton Daily News used the Act to peruse Occupational Safety and Health Administration databases obtained through the Act to identify the most dangerous work places in the country.
How have journalists used their RTI in other countries? -Ireland • Journalists made 17% of the 3,000 applications for information in the first year of the operation of the Act • An RTE journalist, Charlie Bird, used the Act to obtain correspondence which revealed there had been political interference in the promotion of diplomats. Other stories as a result of the Act have dealt with the expenses of ministers and how much MPs spent on foreign trips.
How have journalists used their RTI in other countries? –United Kingdom • Freedom of Information Act passed in England on January 1, 2005, 4,000 requests in 1 month. • Agencies receiving the most requests:-The National Archives, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. • Requests include restaurant hygiene inspections to loaned artwork and ministerial residences. • 2000 requests have come from journalists.
How have journalists used their RTI in other countries? -Australia In Australia, a reporter for the Canberra Times made a request that involved the oil painting of Malcolm Fraser. It was commissioned by Parliament but Fraser did not like it so it was sent to the warehouse and another $12,000 portrait was commissioned. They asked to see the reject and were told no. Access was sought under FOI arguing that, an oil painting was a document. Access was given to TV stations rather than the paper making the original request.
How have journalists used their RTI in other countries? Canada • A Health Department memo was obtained under the Access to Information Act of Canada that stated that there was use of U.S. prison blood products in Canada after being halted in the United States because U.S. authorities did not tell a Canadian broker the products were unsafe. • An estimated 1,000 Canadian hemophiliacs, many of whom had died, were exposed to blood products manufactured from plasma collected through U.S. prisons, notably the Cummins Unit at Grady, Ark. • Canadian hemophiliacs launched a $5-billion US lawsuit alleging the FDA was negligent in continuing to license prison blood centres despite evidence that prisons are rife with infection-drug use and high-risk sex.
What are some of the problems Journalists have with ATI? • Time to obtain information • Requests can be ignored • ATI is not geared towards all-news-all-the-time media • Costs • Government may make public requests made or give tips to journalists who can create a spin to information • Need support from Editors
What are some of the problems Journalists have with ATI? • Not every request results in a story • Getting a story through ATI may take human resources assigned to one story,It is easy to fill up a newspaper, television report or radio program with material which does not cost a lot to generate. JOURNALISTS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION LEGISLATION AND INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING Jack Waterford ,Editor The Times
What should journalists in JA be doing? • Before making an ATI request about Government, research your topic thoroughly. • Look at the public record first. "Fishing expeditions" can only occasionally be productive. • Establish who the official is with charge over the area and contact them. • Read information the Government provides publicly. • Make a request usually only if regular inquiries have failed to produce what you want. • Determine the material nature of the information is it held on paper, in electronic form, or both?
What should journalists in JA be doing? • Review publication schemes of Public Authorities to ascertain what documents are held by the Authority • Take care in making requests be specific:-You can frame your request in terms of information or documents e.g. "I want all documents that would enable me to discover how the tender process worked”, or “I want all the contracts award to X”.
What should journalists in JA be doing • Do not be deterred by an initial refusal. Ask again. • When refused access, one should not automatically appeal. One should look at the reasons and see whether they stand up. The onus of proving that information should not be released is, entirely on the agency. • May make requests for documents for potential stories or to come up with a story e.g. a request for a list of all files in a registry • Read your obtained documents very carefully; they can provide additional leads.
What should journalists in JA be doing? • Journalists have to understand their rights under the Act, know how to frame a request and understand types of documents which might be available and what they might expect • Making requests even though it may take weeks to get the information • Reporting on Appeals and Refusals • Monitoring the implementation process • Testing different access system to information which should be publicly available e.g. Info from court houses, on registers. • Making requests for ATI logs of requests made
What is the public interest in having information released? • Journalists have to be prepared to argue that there is an overwhelming public interest in disclosure including that disclosure may help to ensure that: • informed public debate • Public participation • Scrutiny of the decision-making process • Accountability -spending of public money • No misinformation • Information about possible dangers to health and safety or the environment are released
Jamaica Access to Information Act :FAQ • Comes into force in stages • Covers entire public sector except Governor General where uses powers and duties under constitution, judges, Police and JDF in relation to their intelligence gathering activities • Includes a right to information – not absolute –narrow categories of exemptions s.7 s.14-21
Jamaica Access to Information Act :FAQ • Obligation of Government bodies to publish what information they hold s.4 • Obligation to respond within a specific time s.7 – 30 days after receipt of request.
Jamaica Access to Information Act : FAQ • A right of internal review and to appeal when refused information s.30 &32 • A right to information at a reasonable cost s.12 • A right to information without proof of an interest or reason for wanting the information s.6
Case Studies Pick out one story from these case studies and discuss the following: • 1.Is this a good story? • 3. How will you approach this story using ATI as a tool? • 4. Where will you get the information? • 5. What arguments will you use to support your claims for access to information? • © 2003, Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Colombo, Sri Lanka
“Freedom, prosperity and the development of society depend on education as well as on unrestricted access to knowledge, thought, culture and information”International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, 2005