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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Australia's Right to Know report card

Australia's Right to Know, the coalition of major media organisations, marked its first anniversary yesterday, with Chairman John Hartigan of News Limited releasing a short report card of pluses and minuses on freedom of speech issues over the last 12 months. Overall, pretty similar to the assessment of Christopher Warren of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance referred to here the other day- some positives, some disappointments, but high hopes things will get a lot better in the coming year.

Others, me included, are concerned that there are no signs of progress on many of the issues identified in last year's Audit prepared for the coalition, and that positive Federal commitments, for example to a pro disclosure culture, are still parked in "good intentions". We are also concerned that the coalition itself has not done more to create a constituency for strong and prompt action by all governments on existing constraints on access to, and publication of information in the public interest, and pursued these issues in a more vigorous and publicly visible manner.

Here is an exchange between Rick Snell and me in the last few days, just before the welcome re-emergence of the coalition in the public domain. Rick was commenting on my post about the contrast between our patience, waiting for change here, and the more assertive approach of those behind the National 2008 FOI Summit, held in Philadelphia earlier this month:

"Some very good points. However the Australian Right To Know coalition, after some good research and lobbying efforts seem to have largely left the field.

I was hoping that they would have a continuing agenda and not be content with a few commitments for change made by 1 government (as opposed to a truly national campaign aimed at both the States and the Commonwealth).

There is a need to both build a constituency for change and to constantly monitor performance. The Americans have done this activity extremely well.

I am at a loss that the ARTK and Australian Press Council have not organised a national conference to debate the issues and to motivate and nurture future research.

I am being approached by an increasing number of journalism and law students undertaking research in this field.

The lessons from FOI experience around the world is that information management requires constant attention and adjustment. It also needs a well informed and vigilant FOI community.

The ARTK coalition is in an ideal position to take a number of steps to help develop that community in Australia.



11:23 PM

Anonymous Peter Timmins said...


I share your disappointment. Even when the Federal Government comes good on its commitments,there is along list of other matters that need attention in Canberra and the states.The Coalition is well placed to lead, but publicly at least, is hard to find or hear."

Let's hope the first anniversary of the coalition marks a turning point in its development into a strong, permanent, well resourced and widely supported voice for Australia's Right to Know.

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