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Friday, May 11, 2007

Media splash for Australian Right to Know Campaign

The Australian Right to Know Campaign (see item below) is widely reported across the country today with a articles about the launch in The Australian, The (Adelaide) Advertiser, Australian Financial Review and Sydney Morning Herald (and probably others).

In an editorial "Unity on the Right to Know" The Courier Mail includes this piece about Freedom of Information in Queensland:

Queenslanders have every reason to be as concerned as any other Australians, perhaps more so, given the State Government's long-established liking for secrecy and news management, the absence of an upper house and the current one-sided state political landscape. Government-owned corporations such as water and electricity utilities and port authorities, for example, are exempt from Freedom of Information legislation. Last year, when the Opposition proposed scrapping such exemptions, Deputy Premier Anna Bligh ridiculed the move, claiming it would give private competitors to organisations such as Queensland Rail and the Queensland Investment Corporation unfair commercial advantages. And even when files are "released" under FOI, paragraphs or entire pages of sensitive detail are often blacked out. Deliberate gags to save political embarrassment, in the form of Cabinet exemptions, are not unusual.

The Age editorial "Right to know is at the heart of freedom" says "Freedom of Information has been neutered by judicial rulings as governments become more secretive" and continues:
When the powerful escape scrutiny, freedom shrivels and good political and economic governance along with it. But public opinion is freedom's great ally. In another time of threat in the 1950s, US broadcaster Edward R. Murrow also took his fight to the public. "Most of us probably feel we couldn't be free without newspapers," he said, "and that is the real reason we want the newspapers to be free." The digital revolution has changed the media, but their role as a cornerstone of freedom is the same. The Age and its media allies will continue this perpetual fight for the public's right to know.
The Sydney Morning Herald "The gags are getting tighter" says:
FREEDOM of information has become a term of which George Orwell's Ministry of Truth would be proud. It was not always so. Malcolm Fraser, who introduced the first freedom of information laws in 1982, had earlier declared the electorate should have the greatest possible access to information. "How can any community progress without continuing and informed and intelligent debate? How can there be debate without information?" But the state and federal laws which he and others introduced in good faith contained a Trojan horse: the procedure by which governments can legally suppress information. That procedure was meant to be used for exceptions, but exceptions have become the rule. The State Government, for example, has recently rebuffed Herald requests for information on which hotels attract crime, and what repairs our state schools need. This information is in no way sensitive - unless you are a politician.

This newspaper has played a leading role in pushing for freedom of information. Media groups including Fairfax Media, the publisher of the Herald, have joined together to campaign against the restriction and censorship of free speech. Pressing governments for freedom of information is not about finding material for scandal or violating privacy. It is not about chasing circulation or ratings. It is about guaranteeing a fundamental principle of democracy, the right to know.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance has supported the initiative (Read the full Press Release here...) and established its own Press Freedom Committee. (Read the full press release here...)

Media reports referred to above quote ALP Federal Shadow Attorney General, Joe Ludwig, as welcoming the media group's plans. Nothing so far from his state and territory colleagues who happen to be in power in every jurisdiction.

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