FOI:

L M McIntire writes: Re. “Friday arvo document dumps subvert FOI reform: editors” (Friday, item 2). Well, thanks to the Right to Know Coalition, Channel Seven FOI editor Michael McKinnon and The Australian’s FOI editor Sean Parnell, now we know. The reasons that journalists push for and support FOI laws have nothing to do with public interest or any right for the people of Australia to have access to government information. To the Right to Know Coalition FOI laws should be about the “right” of journalists to get exclusives.

To ensure that they can get those exclusives the first journalists to ask for information from government agencies should be able to prevent that information from being publicly released by the agencies to anyone but themselves until they have had the opportunity to get personal benefit from it.  To support this the Right to Know Coalition has made a submission to Office of the Information Commissioner presumably asking, in the interest of a public right to know, for FOI law to be amended to prevent Government agencies from releasing information to the public.

Beyond the breathtaking Orwellian double-speak and the naked self-interest being paraded as public interest, I object to the underlying assumption that good journalism, with contextualisation and nuanced analysis, and the holding of governments properly to account, can only happen if members of the public know nothing about the issue being examined before it is splashed across the front page (presumably under a headline implying scandal, malfeasance or corruption).

I’m delighted to have journalists find information, probe governments and their agencies, examine issues and take strong positions on them — it’s one of the reasons I read Crikey for god’s sake — but I totally oppose any view that FOI laws exist primarily for journalists or that the public can only properly understand government information if it is selected, filtered, edited and interpreted by them.

I take the opposite view to the Right to Know Coalition. I think that the public has a right to know and I wish that all agencies would publish to the web all information covered by any FOI request.

Brian Mitchell writes: There is something perverse in the Right to Know coalition demanding a restricted release of government information. Forget about seeking the “exclusive” and instead seek to publish the best, most comprehensive report you can. I think media outlets will find that readers and viewers are seeking credibility and accuracy ahead of hot-off-the-press news.

In the era of the internet, an exclusive lasts all of 30 seconds anyway. The Right to Know coalition should be welcoming the all-out dump and campaigning for it to go further.

We shouldn’t have Freedom of Information laws, we should have Freedom from Information laws: That is, ALL government information should be automatically and openly available, with departments having to apply to keep certain things confidential, and having to jump through all sorts of hoops to achieve it.

Kirill Reztsov writes: So the government is bad because it uses FOI laws, designed to release information to the public, to release information to the public?

To say that the government should release information exclusively to some media companies is like saying that roads should be restricted to taxi drivers and national parks should only be accessible to biologists.

If the government releases documents and journalists can be bothered reporting on it, then I think the problem is with the latter.

Andrew Bolt:

Philip McLaren writes: The debates (and there are many) that emanate from the Andrew Bolt trial should not be narrowed to only one — free speech — as some rush conveniently to loudly proclaim.

The occurrence of one person putting forward a view in our mass media naming persons, holding himself out as being an informed expert in such announcements while those named have no access to equal space or time in the mass media can only be called an abuse of opportune speech. And that is what the Bolt trial is about.

Mr Bolt’s news stories present only one side to this propaganda and poll driven society. People who can’t afford to seek remedy from Australian courts, (and we all know how expensive this is), have to cop his Free Speech assaults.  Who are being assaulted here is quite clear.

Mal Wood writes: Andrew Bolt is not just some red-neck in a pub. He is a columnist with the might of News Limited behind him and a massive audience. He should be made to adhere to higher standards, and should take more responsibility than the average person in the street.

Freedom of speech ought to be thought of as the right to assembly and to speak freely for all citizens.  The fact that a small number of citizens have well paid jobs with very loud megaphones in comparison to the rest of the population shows that we do not have some kind of equal speech for all.

Libya:

Christopher Frangos writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 11). As pro-Gaddafi and rebel forces skirt between towns on the Libyan coast, a worrying chorus of dissent is growing.

Despite initial successes by rebel and NATO forces, a lack of organisation within the rebel army has emboldened Gaddafi and his inner circle. The potential for stalemate in this stunted revolution has not been helped by the opposition to the Western led mission in the country. Russia and China’s opposition was not surprising when UNSCR 1973 was passed last month.

However, the criticism by many media organisations in the United Kingdom and the United States is a cause for concern.

First it came from the US Congress for Obama’s directive for military intervention in Libya without sufficient debate and constitutional approval. Next it has come from both the liberal and conservative news organisations whom have argued that this intervention in the country is not a “national interest” for any party involved. FOX News commentator Sean Hannity remarked that the President “should target Mugabe next” since this intervention was now precedent. The ridiculous notion of the Western powers not using its capabilities to uphold the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine is ludicrous.

The schools of realism and real politik have appeared to taken over many foreign policy departments across the advanced globe. If the United States Congress had deliberated over military intervention in Libya (as the Executive is legally bound) they would still be harping over the issue. And one million people in Benghazi could have potentially lost their lives.

The Western world have expressed their disgust over past genocides in Rwanda and Sudan with the message that “it will never happen again”. If we followed the arguments of many realists like China and Russia, it would have.

Science:

Eveline Goy writes: My husband was a senior research scientist (entomologist) with CSIRO when they suddenly decided that they no longer needed entomologists. He, along with more than ten other entomologists, were told that they could move on ten years ago. I don’t believe that entomology has ever recovered in Australia.

Australia lost a whole bevy of highly qualified, specialised scientists at that time, and the loss of morale reverberated in the organisation throughout that period. The largest issue was that science projects were meant to be linked with business plans. Science is not like business, and never could anyone really pick “winners”. This approach started under the Keating government. We often contemplate the state of the science sector and feel sad that good scientists have to struggle so hard with business managers and financiers. I don’t have any answer and neither did the Ministers we visited at the time to share our concerns.

Good scientists work in science because they have a passion for learning and a curiosity beyond bounds. They are not greedy but need to feel adequately rewarded and appreciated. When my husband was told that his salary would now be charged to Aventis, whereas those of business administrators could continue to come from government appropriation, he felt that the time had come for him to move on.

He no longer talks of science and would not participate in any CSIRO activities nowadays. Neither would many of his former very talented colleagues.  What a depressing story. Does the wheel ever turn?

Peter Fray

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