Archive for October, 2011

Ham, Cheese and Transparency

London based journalist Annamarie Cumiskey was so enthused about a meeting with young Spanish data journalists at a recent seminar, that she offered a guest contribution to the Watchdog Blog. Here it comes.

In the past three weeks I have been a victim of theft three times in three different cities. My home was burgled in London; my bank account was hacked into in Kiev and a man behind a deli counter in Madrid ripped-me off over some ham and cheese. The ham and cheese was the last straw.

While on a visit to Madrid to promote data driven journalism I happened to buy some fine Spanish ham and cheese to take home. The man behind the deli counter wanted €34 and I handed it over not knowing how to complain in Spanish. The receipt was not transparent; the items were not broken down properly. €34 for a few slices of ham and cheese and a dodgy receipt, as far as I could see, translated into a rip-off.

Armed with the receipt I complained to my hotel receptionist, who complained to the municpal police, who duly turned up at the shop, where the deli man’s face turned pale and made him give me back my money. In Spain it’s against the law to give someone an ambiguous receipt. They take transparency seriously in Spain.

So why does Spain not have a Freedom of Information Act? It’s the only country in the EU with a population over 1m that has no FOI.  These days FOI is seen as a human right one that should sit alongside free speech in a modern European democracy. It should even be made one of the conditions of EU membership.

In the run up to November’s election both main parties have promised to introduce FOI if elected. But, why has it taken so long? Like the man behind the deli counter are Spanish politicians afraid of being found out?

There’s a willing “police” to make sure any FOI law is respected – a group of data driven journalists and FOI campaigners championed by Pro Bono Publico and Access-Info Europe.  The next time I want to buy some ham and cheese in Spain I’m taking them with me.

These are the organisors of the seminar:

Pro Bono Publico promotes FOI and data driven journalism in Madrid

Access-Info Europe supports FOI campaign in Spain

Freedom of Information Coalition

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