Archive for March, 2010

Paper ages

Sweden – the mother nation of a transparent administration with a freedom of information law since 1766 – is currently struggling with itself about exactly freedom of information.

Should citizens enjoy the same openness as in the old paperages, when the administration moves on to use electronic administration?

A recent draft on access to electronically held public information by a committee under the Swedish Ministry of Justice has caused protests by the Swedish Union of Journalists, who also filed a minority comment in the ministerial committe. Read a resumée of the recent developments in Sweden on Wobbing.eu.

It is interesting to see, how countries and the European institutions struggle with the notion of transparency in public administration when it comes to new technologies. Technologies, that make it easier to give access to information because of electronic filing systems and so forth.

Yet again and again the move to more efficient administrative systems appears to be used to push the public back into the dark paper ages and keept public scrutiny away from our public authorities. A dangerous move, if we want a well-functioning administration and public trust in our democracies.

The European Ombudsmand following the farmsubsidy case produced an overview over the situation on electronic access  in 2008, thus emphasising the importance of the subject.

The situation is now developping at a fast speed, and citizens and journalists have to watch out not to find themselves stuck between piles of paper with old information.

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Blank front pages

Three Estonian newspapers today publish empty front pages in protest against a draft law sent to the Estonian parlament today, according to Meelis Mandel, the editor in chief of Business Newspaper Äripëav. Postimees, Ohtuleht and  Äripäev where the three papers taking action.

The empty front pages of the three important daily newspapers want to draw attention to a draft law that according to numerous sources would weaken the protection for sources of journalists. In its current form it is considered a severe threat against freedom of expression. Journalists and media people have tried to raise awareness about the law for months.

“The law – if passed – will allow the arrest of investigative journalists and force them to disclose the names of their sources,” Meelis Mandel explains. It would also make it possible for the courts to impose fines on publishers based on the sole suspicion that newspapers have the intention to publish potentially harmful information, before investigative articles even appear.

The law was initiated by government and has now been referred to the Estonian parliament, according to several media sources.

“Estonia currently holds a high position in world press freedom rankings. Passing this law would throw Estonia shamefully backwards,” says Meelis Mandel.

Recently Dirk Voorhoof, a European expert on media law and freedom of expression and media law professor at the University of Gent, visited Estonia and analysed the draft. In its present form, the draft law does not meet the aim of source protection, contrary to what its name says, Voorhoof said to Estonian newspaper Eesti Paevaleht. “The draft law provides extensive exceptions which allow to ignore the principle of source protection and force journalists to disclose their sources. These exceptions do not in any way meet the aim stipulated in the name of the law which is to protect the sources,” Voorhoof noted.

Update 20th March 2010: See also article in Baltic Business News and on Euronews.

Update 21st of March 2010: See also article in German TAZ.

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