Another Blow to the Right to Know - Ottawa Dodges Complaints of Unfair Treatment of Media



    OTTAWA, Sept. 27 /CNW Telbec/ - The Office of the Information
Commissioner (OIC) has failed in its attempt to investigate a Canadian
Newspaper Association (CNA) complaint filed in 2005 regarding discriminatory
government practices in managing media requests under the Access to
Information Act, Anne Kothawala, President and CEO said at a news conference
in Ottawa today.
    "Two years ago we presented evidence to the OIC that government officials
had a policy of 'amber-lighting' or 'red-flagging' so-called 'sensitive'
requests, and that media requests tended to get flagged in this way, resulting
in illegitimate processing delays and high rates of refusal. Instead of
looking at that evidence, the Information Commissioner's office surveyed
government departments on their processes. It's like interviewing all the
suspects at a crime scene, without taking statements from the victims," she
said.
    "At no time were journalists allowed to have input. At no time was our
evidence examined. Instead we have been thrown into an adversarial situation
in which our evidence, years of published research that has never been
challenged, years of criticism of political manipulation by the former
Information Commissioner, evidence before the Gomery Commission of Inquiry,
and the experience of journalists in using access to information have all been
left out," she said.
    "Instead of an investigation, the complainant is being put on trial,"
Ms. Kothawala said, referring to the OIC's announced intention to forego a
full investigation of the CNA's complaint and instead confine itself to a
critique of the methodology employed in a short memo from two academic
researchers on the results of the internal government survey of processes for
managing "sensitive" requests. The memo supported the CNA's contention that
requests from media are "amber-lighted" and thus liable to suffer delays as a
result of excessive scrutiny or political manipulation. The government has
formally denied the charge, however Ms. Kothawala noted that when he was in
opposition Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemned "amber-lighting" as "wrong
in principle" and "not in the spirit of the act."
    "There are two guarantors of the public's right to know in Canada - the
media and the Information Commissioner," Ms. Kothawala said, "and when the
media are blocked and the Commissioner's office is paralyzed, the public's
right to know is in trouble."
    Ms. Kothawala delivered her remarks in Ottawa on the eve of International
Right to Know Day.

    For the full text of Ms. Kothawala's remarks please visit the CNA website
at www.cna-acj.ca.

    About the Canadian Newspaper Association

    The Canadian Newspaper Association is the voice of Canada's daily
newspaper industry. We promote the positive reputation of newspapers as an
essential medium that benefits all Canadians, and as an effective vehicle for
advertisers. The CNA is a vigorous champion of journalistic freedom and
democratic reform and is a valued source of industry information, trends and
best practices.




For further information:

For further information: and interviews: David Gollob, 1-800-536-7993,
dgollob@cna-acj.ca, www.cna-acj.ca

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