Friday, 14 August 2015

Your Right to Know

Pic of open filing cabinet with hands going through official documents in folders

At the Guardian's Masterclass on Investigative Journalism, Helen Darbishire of Access Info gave a fascinating talk on our right of access to information. Her presentation was entitled Your Right to Know: Legal Leaks. This is a topical subject in Britain. 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. There is also much discussion about a British bill of rights.

Following a brief history, Helen explained that Freedom of Expression includes the Right of Access to Information (UN Human Rights Committee, Article 19, 27 July 2011). Such information includes records held by a public body, regardless of the form in which the information is stored, its source and date of publication (e.g. even an official's handwritten notes). 

There are two obligations:
i) Reactive - obligation to respond to FOI requests
ii) Proactive - obligation to publish information.

Helen gave the audience ten top tips to follow in pursuing FOI requests

·      TIP 1
            It might be public already!

·      TIP 2
            Set prejudice aside
            (Don't assume that you will never get the desired information).

·      TIP 3
            Know your right/law

·      TIP 4
            Keep a record of your requests. Set an alarm.
            European FOI time frames vary
            Best in class: Estonia, Iceland & Sweden at 5 days
            Worst in class: Austria at 42 days
            United Kingdom: 20 days

·      TIP 5
            Think laterally

·      TIP 6
            Go public with your request
            A request is a story. Campaign for an answer.

·      TIP 7
            Be prepared for the answer
            Have experts on standby to help you analyse the data on receipt.

·      TIP 8
            Anticipate exceptions
           Send separate requests. Don't be too obvious in what you are after.
           Cross-referencing information can fill in blanks.

·      TIP 9
            Appeal, Appeal, Appeal
            Know the deadlines. Ask for an expert. Cultivate pro bono lawyers.

·      TIP 10
            A refusal is a story to publish

·      BONUS TIP
            It's your right: use it or lose it!

Karen Andrews runs Anglicity Ltd. She is an entrepreneurial French to English translator, editor, content writer and marketing consultant. Contact for further information on Anglicity's services.

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