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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Familiar ring to Canadian journalist disclosure log woes

Surprise!BC flag
I'm sure journalists won't need prompting to bring to the attention of Australian Information Commissioner John McMillan the statement by the British Columbia Minister for Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government that the government has no plans for simultaneous release of documents to the freedom of information applicant and the public. The statement followed a report by the province information and privacy commissioner that found an agency adopting this practice:
"They are narrowly within scope of the law. However, I'm finding the practice is offside the spirit of the law, which is about open and accountable government," the commissioner said.
In arguments that have a familiar ring here, media groups in Canada said the practice "was designed to discourage requests, because journalists will be less willing to put the time and money into a request when they know their competitors will have the same information as quickly as they will." The commissioner recommended the agency provide at least a 24-hour delay in posting records from FOI requests to its website.

The Australian Commissioner having floated a couple of options in a draft, left things up to each agency in the final version of the guidelines (Part 14) on the Disclosure Log:
Agencies and ministers are encouraged to consider this issue and to decide upon an appropriate approach to publishing information in their disclosure log. It is advisable that each agency and minister adopts a guiding principle or practice as to when accessed information will be published under s 11C, so that applicants know of that practice in advance and that they will be treated similarly to other applicants. Further, if an agency or minister decides to provide access to the FOI applicant as at the same time it publishes information in its disclosure log, the agency or minister should consider reducing or waiving any charges it may otherwise have imposed under s 29.. (14.25)
I haven't looked too far so don't know if this is common, but Foreign Affairs and Trade for one have announced the practice of updating the log weekly on a Thursday.

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