"JERSEY'S EVENING PROPAGANDA"
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Tuesday, 22 March 2011
"J.E.P Claims To Be Supporter Of Freedom Of Information!!!" whatever next?
Information battle is almost won
JEP spin doctor, John Averty
AS the old saying goes, knowledge is power. That, in essence, is why those who hold high political office have often tried instinctively to control the flow of information, the better to hold on to their positions and influence events.
To the great benefit of the democratic process, however, it is becoming ever harder for such attitudes to be maintained. The technology which has ushered in the information age is rendering obsolete old assumptions about how information should be shared, opinions formed and public policy shaped.
Meanwhile, in many jurisdictions freedom of information legislation has already enshrined the rights of the citizen to request documents and data from their authorities and reasonably expect to receive them without undue hindrance.
Now, finally, Jersey is to join them, with the almost certain introduction of a new law to replace the current voluntary code by which the States operate. The draft law, just published by the Privileges and Procedures Committee, still has to be approved by the full Assembly, but it is next to unthinkable that that will not now happen, especially in an election year.
Privileges president Juliette Gallichan is to be congratulated on bringing to the point of fruition a complex and challenging project which has taken something like a decade to complete.
Unsurprisingly, this newspaper has been a strong supporter from the start of a campaign which has had to overcome philosophical resistance, obfuscation and delaying tactics on its way towards ultimate success.
The media have a clear interest in public information being made as widely available as possible, but they have no monopoly on the uses of a law which will also help politicians, researchers, campaign groups, businesses and private individuals, as well as providing an antidote to the creeping curse of political spin.
Contrary to what opponents of a Freedom of Information Law would have us believe, its introduction should not be a costly or unwieldy addition to the responsibilities of public bodies. At heart, it should mean a simple matter of their learning to start from the assumption that the answer is yes instead of no when presented with a reasonable request for information they hold, and there is no obvious reason why much more time and energy should be expended by civil servants in meeting requests than in attempting to justify their denial.
The voluntary code has been an important staging post, but could never be as effective as the force of law in bringing about the required change in the public sector mentality.
It has been a long time coming, but the new law will be both a valuable practical tool and an important symbol of a maturing relationship between the Island authorities and the people they are appointed to serve.