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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Commercial TV knows a thing or two about FOI

Errol Simper in The Australian last week commented on Ray Martin's Andrew Ollie memorial lecture and gave the free to air television networks heaps over their news and current affairs programs, prompting the following response from Michael McKinnon, FOI editor of Seven Network.In addition to his defence of Seven and his own industrious FOI work, there's a bit of news (for me at least)-the ABC is setting up an FOI Unit.
"Having read Errol Simper's column on November 3, I can only assume he doesn't regard watching Seven News as part of his responsibility. The snide scribe contends that commercial networks are failing in their duty to keep politicians and governments honest by rigorous reporting and investigation. Crucial to good journalism is accuracy. To this end, Mr Simper should consider the following facts.

Seven reporters Aela Callan and Robert Ovadia are finalists for the 2008 Walkley for television news reporting of the so-called Iguanagate story involving a federal MP's alleged abuse of power. Last year, Mark Riley and I were nominated for five separate investigations into government failures or abuse of power.

In recent months Seven News has reported on crumbling bridges in Adelaide, assaults on Melbourne's transport system, deaths caused by mistakes in Sydney hospitals and police corruption on the Gold Coast. All told, there have been dozens of stories for which governments have no cause to thank us.

Today Tonight is fighting the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and Qantas in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to get access to secret documents on overseas maintenance of aircraft. The maintenance documents are one of five separate AAT appeals launched by Seven.

Almost two years ago, Seven News employed me as Australian television's first freedom of information editor. Despite Mr Simper's jaundiced view, I would like to think I am earning my keep. Certainly there have been front page follow-ups of our investigations by a number of newspapers.

Recently the ABC, which seems to be the only network Mr Simper watches, has sought our advice on setting up its own FOI bureau.

Accurate, in-depth and unrelenting reporting is a fundamental duty of any media company. Seven News is happy to be measured against any competitor on its performance.

Michael McKinnon
FOI editor, Seven Network"

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