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Thursday, October 16, 2008

FOI specialists not up in lights at Walkleys this year

None of the media's FOI mafia made the list of finalists for the Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism this year. Long time investigative journalist Ross Coulthart (with Nick Farrow), who has used freedom of information laws to good effect over the years, is one of three finalists in both Television Current Affairs Reporting (Less Than 20 Minutes) and Investigative Journalism categories for a report on Sunday, Channel Nine,“Butcher of Bega". The program brought to light shocking medical malpractice on the south coast of NSW. Coulthart ( and Farrow) have picked up Walkleys before for outstanding investigative reports for the now defunct Sunday program

Seven years ago in Coulthart and Princess Alexandra Hospital and District Health Service (text here), Coulthart won an important victory when the Queensland Information Commissioner decided that a statistical table of adverse outcomes from cartoid surgery performed by the Hospital's Vascular Surgery Unit over a specified time period was not an exempt document, despite the fact that it indicated that one of the five surgeons involved had a "complication rate" higher than other surgeons involved.The decision( a summary here) included strong findings that disclosure of this type of information is in the public interest.Not sure why, but the decision didn't seem to cut much ice elsewhere.The reasoning behind it hopefully is informing Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon's push for public access to more information about performance in the health system.

The full list of finalists in the Walkleys, to be awarded on 27 November, is here.

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