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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Investigative journalism gongs for outstanding use of FOI

The US based Investigative Reporters and Editors has just announced its 2006 award winners for outstanding watch dog journalism.

The Freedom of Information Award was shared between a group of reporters from the Times-Union of Albany New York, and, a Danish based website.

Here's what the judges had to say about the winners:

Secret Political Piggy Bank
"When the Times-Union set out to expose how New York legislators used secret slush funds called "member items" to fund pet projects, they hit a stone wall. The government initially gave up a heavily redacted database with funding amounts but no sponsoring legislators' names. So, the newspaper ended up suing the Assembly itself to force full disclosure of the financial records. In a lawsuit eventually joined by important media outlets across the state, the Albany paper was able to obtain records that showed how many lawmakers were funding suspect and sleazy deals through their secret funds. Among the findings: legislators underwrote pricey non-profits and no-show jobs for relatives, and supported the political organization of a state senator with a bribery conviction. There's nothing like holding the writers of the FOI laws accountable -- and this series did just that".
Farm Subsidies
"Nils Mulvad, a Danish investigative journalist, led a two-year effort to open archives all over Europe to expose the closely guarded secrets of farm subsidies. With help from journalist Brigitte Alfter and researcher Jack Thurston, records on subsidies were acquired from 17 of 25 of the European Union countries. The resulting information was put on a website and made available to reporters and others throughout the EU. It resulted in a number of important stories, including showing how millionaires were among the top recipients and how dairy subsidies were undermining farmers in the Third World. A truly important and groundbreaking effort that will pave the way for the opening of other European Union records to the benefit of journalists worldwide".
Finalists included:

The Cincinnati Enquirer with "Lead's Dangerous Legacy":
"In March 2006 the Ohio Supreme Court ordered the Cincinnati Department of Health make public its records on landlords who hadn't removed poisonous lead paint from their properties. The records showed that 300 homes and apartments were tainted. Since 2002 at least 570 kids had been poisoned and yet the department had done "little to make landlords clean up the properties."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution with coverage of "The Center for Disease Control and Prevention"
"The Center - the world's premier public health agency-- is in turmoil and foundering. It is at risk from many of the same ills that lead to FEMA's disastrous performance after Hurricane Katrina, according to Young's reporting on the Atlanta-based agency."
The Australian Walkley Awards include an Investigative Journalism Award, won last year by Caroline Overington of the The Australian, for her series on the AWB Kickback Scandal.

It would be great to see a Walkley for Freedom of Information.

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