This Bill Will Improve Official Access to Information

June 10, 2018

According to Scoop, Maungakiekie MP Denise Lee has introduced a private members bill that would enable elected members of local authorities to perform their duties more effectively by providing them greater access to official information.

Ms. Lee, who is also the National Party spokesperson for Local Government (Auckland) says the bill creates a system that will bridge the information gap between Mayors and other elected councilors.

“My bill, the Local Government Official Information and Meetings (Rights of Members) Amendment Bill, removes many of the barriers faced by members of a local authority when requesting information,” Ms. Lee says.

“It reduces the required response time and limits the reasons that can be used to withhold information, while also introducing safeguards around the use of that information.

“Under the current system, councilors are treated like any other member of the public when trying to access official information. The flow of information is often very tightly controlled from the Mayor’s office – and the recent report on a new stadium from Auckland Council is just one example of how Councillors are often kept in the dark about important decisions.

“When Councillors are forced to go to the Ombudsman in order to access information it is clear the system is broken, and this bill will fix it. Councilors are responsible for making the big decisions on behalf of their constituents, but they can’t do that without having access to all the relevant information.

“My bill is about empowering Councillors to better perform their duties, which will lead to better outcomes for the public,” Ms. Lee says.

Access Information Assault in Iran

June 3, 2018

According to Human Rights Watch, the Iranian judiciary’s blocking of the messaging application Telegram is an unjustifiable restriction on freedom of expression and access to information, Human Rights Watch said today. With more than 40 million users, Telegram had become the main social media platform for Iranians.

On April 30, 2018, Mizan Online News Agency, the judiciary’s news agency, reported that the prosecutor of the second branch of Tehran’s Culture and Media Court had ordered all internet service providers to block access to Telegram and its website, effective immediately. On the morning of May 1, the Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA, reported that the mobile operators Iran Cell and RighTel had begun blocking users’ access to Telegram.

“Iran is again stifling access to information to try to make its problems go away, but censorship should never be used to protect leaders from scrutiny,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch McdVoice. “Blocking Telegram is just another stain on Iranian authorities’ already dismal record on freedom of expression.”

The Culture and Media Court prosecutor said that Telegram had created a “safe haven” for “international terrorist organizations,” permitting the coordination of Iranian protests in late December 2017, and early January, 2018, as well as the deadly attacks claimed by the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) at Ayatollah Khomeini’s shrine and the Iranian parliament in Tehran on June 7, 2017. The attackers killed 17 people and injured dozens more.

The judiciary also said that Telegram has helped enable crimes including “disruption of national unity,” “improper data collection,” insulting the sacred,” “acting against national security,” and “propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

On December 31, during protests that led to widespread demonstrations in several parts of the country, Iranian authorities temporarily blocked Telegram and the popular social media application Instagram. President Hassan Rouhani ordered Telegram unblocked on January 4 and Instagram on January 13.

Access to Information Unit has launched new booklet

May 9, 2018

According to Jamaica Information Service, the access to information unit has launched the youth information booklet entitled “Abby and Friends ATI Adventure” last March 26. The launching was held at the Kingston and St. Andrew Parish Library, Tom Redcam Drive, in Kingston.

The report described how the publication ushers the readers to a knowledgeable adventure like FAQs (Frequently asked questions) and activity sections. Hon. Floyd Green embraced the publication during his speech, encouraging the Unit to partner with the HEART Trust/NTA in creating an animated format of the book. Mr. Green is the State Minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information.

“Here we can tell the story through animation. We have a youth digitization project at the HEART Trust/NTA with some excellent young animators. Why not let us bring Abby to life. So, yes they can read the book, but imagine if we could also pop in a video that we can play,” Mr. Green said.

“This is something that the Ministry of Education will be willing to partner on, and that is something I believe we should do as the next step,” he added. Meanwhile, Acting Director, Access to Information Unit, Tomica Daley, said following the implementation of the ATI in 2004, the Government, through the ATI Unit, has sought to create awareness of the Act and encourage the various publics to utilize it, where to buy liquor.

“Consequently, the Unit identified the youth cohort as significant participants as early democratic participation is integral to shaping our future,” Mrs. Daley said. She noted that the idea for the publication came about in 2016 when the team at the Unit recognized that it had little promotional material relating to the youth.

“When we conducted school public education outreach, children and youth often had to be provided with materials designated for adults, specifically the adult brochure and copies of the law. Naturally, this affected our ability to generate interest among this very important cohort, our youth, and so we concluded that there must be another way,” the Acting Director said.

Supreme Court disregards right to access medical information

May 2, 2018

According to Rewire, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, the case challenging a California law that mandates certain disclosures for reproductive health-care facilities. Passed in 2015, the Reproductive Freedom Accountability Comprehensive Care and Transparency (FACT) Act is, at its core, a truth-in-advertising law—but it has become a proxy for conservatives’ war on reproductive health science.

The law places two different requirements on clinics in the state. Licensed clinics must post a notice that the state provides low-cost contraception and abortion services to those who qualify; unlicensed facilities must disclose that they are unlicensed. But just before the law was set to take effect, attorneys from the conservative litigation mill Alliance Defending Freedom sued on behalf of a group of licensed and unlicensed anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs). They argued the law was not a regulation to protect consumers, but instead an unconstitutional attack on CPC free speech rights—because it forced these businesses to convey a “pro-abortion” message with which they disagree. Both a lower court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the law. But as oral arguments closed Tuesday, those rulings appeared to be in jeopardy, liquor stores.

Attorney Michael Farris from ADF took to the podium first, telling the justices that California lawmakers “took aim” at CPCs in drafting the FACT Act by making them “point the way” to abortion clinics in the state. This framing—that the law targets CPCs and no one else—is an essential component to ADF’s challenge and one Farris stuck to throughout his time before the Court. It may prove to be a winning strategy. He claimed lawmakers “gerrymandered” the law, drafting what looked to be a neutral regulation but one that was in reality riddled with exceptions that left only CPCs exposed to enforcement.

NAI journalists in Kabul discriminated from access to information

April 24, 2018

The free media advocacy group called NAI accused the government last Monday how they tighten the grip of accessing the information. NAI believes that they are making things hard for the media people, experiencing difficulties to collect details.

In line with this, the head of NAI named Abdul Mujib Khilwatgar revealed during a press conference held in Kabul how the government was hesitant to provide satisfactory information to journalists. Therefore, Khilwatgar says it is a violation of the law on access to information, the Liquor store near me.

What is more frustrating is that government never responds to journalists’ telephone calls and even the people receiving phone calls on their behalf are being tortured. Khilwatgar adds how the government deals with the local media differently as they only behave to foreign media.

“Government spokespersons only respond in yes and no to questions from journalists and provide no satisfactory answers. This discrimination between local and foreign media is against the media law and the law on access to information,” Khilwatgar explained.

“Some government offices demand official letters from journalists to allow them access to information. For example, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Transport, as well as hospitals and schools, ask journalists for an official letter. This causes people to remain unaware of the real situation,” Khilwatgar further shared.

Moreover, denying journalists and media’s right to access information only means the government is depriving people as well from the information. This is the reason why the citizens don’t trust the regime anymore. Aside from this, the government does not allow reporters too to ride military convoys to the country’s remote area.

The NAI head is also concerned about media outlets that were influenced by the government. They had nothing to say but only favorable things.

The president’s deputy spokesman, Dawa Khan Minapal, said that the government was committed to implementing the law on access to information. About NAI concerns, according to Pajhwok, he said: “The access to information law has recently been amended to relax access to information, but the media should also cooperate with the government in enforcing this law.”

Access Information gun registry

February 26, 2018

In response to the Access to Information (ATIP) request for gun data, RCMP gave iPolitics the unreadable copies of the national firearms registry in January. According to iPolitics, this request was out of the concern that gun data could be manipulated.

Mountie access branch granted this request last month via an informal request from iPolitics, asking for the copy of the registry data released in 2017 under the formal access request that can be sorted through excel and other worksheet applications.

Meanwhile, RCMP Access to Information Branch telephoned to clear things up when iPolitics reported last week that Mounties sit on the access request for some reason. Following this, RCMP Superintendent Richard Have has explained that the ATIP analyst only followed the protocol, which required them an extra caution in releasing data. This is even through the Access to Information requests for the copies of pre-release information.

“We really should not be sending out data in a way that could be manipulated. Once it’s out there in the public domain we really have no control over it,” says Have. “She (the analyst) had noted that when she got the data from the office of primary interest (the Canadian Firearms Centre) they provided in an Excel format. She placed it in a PDF out of concern it could be manipulated,” he added.

On the other hand, a similar concern was behind the analyst’s decision to resend the registry copy in Microsoft Excel, even in lock mode that requires the password to be fully read. There was no way for it to be edited as columns cannot be widened and it is impossible for the firearm category, year of firearm registration, and additional details to be sorted. Furthermore, Haye promised that a useable format would be sent for the third time, but he was unclear what threat the RCMP was trying to avoid with the inaccessible versions. “There are all types out there,” he said. To perfect Papa Murphy’s customer satisfaction survey is important to us.

IPPR information access report, Tweya reacts

IPPR published and launched a report titled “Access Denied” in early December 2017. It contains the findings of access information, the survey of over 100 private, public, state-owned enterprises and civil society organizations.

The report says that 80 percent of all institutions and organizations did not respond or could not give the information requested. It also revealed that in 20 ministries approached for an information request, only five responded. Aside from these, additional results revealed that 60 percent of the respondents did not respond to the information request in an interesting way. Also, over 85 percent of those who participated were unresponsive to questions sent to them.

Moreover, only Erongo responded with the information requested out of 14 regions in a reasonable time. This information was instantly dismissed by Information minister Tjekero Tweyaa as he declares IPPR to have a malicious agenda against the government.

Tweya further explained that the findings were contradictory when he contacted the ministries mentioned in the report. He pointed out how IPPR cannot seem to provide a list of information, including the officials approached for the information.

“Regrettably, the IPPR could not contact the officials handling public information. For all we know, they might have contacted any official who happened to answer their query at that particular time. We feel that this was done deliberately to suit their malicious agenda,” he explained.

On the other hand, according to Namibian, IPPR director Graham Hopwood responded that the findings in the report were intended to “provide an opportunity for government and other sectors of Namibian society to identify weak points and best practices in the release of information.”

On February 7, Jane Mungabwa of the Action Namibia Coalition secretariat issued a statement in support of the IPPR and its report. Mungabwa called on minister Tweya to give immediate attention to the issue of government level access to information and to see the IPPR report as an indicator of the urgency for an access to information law in Namibia.

Media App for easy information access

February 12, 2018

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay asked the ministry to explore the possibility of developing a media app for people to have access to various forms of media at the mid-year review of the Annual Performance Agreement (APA) in Thimphu on February 7.

He said that the aim to increase access to reliable and affordable Information and Communications Technology (ICT) services to over 160 gewogs and community centers was achieved. “Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) has provided internet access to about 200 gewog centers, six dzongkhags, 20 dzongkhags, and 10 Basic Health Units,” Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay explained.

Meanwhile, Soe, Naro, Lingzhi, Laya, and Lunana are yet to obtain the services. According to Kuensel, Shingkhar Lauri was connected to the Internet during the previous month. Dasho Karma W Penjor said that the Department of Information and Media’s (DOIM) target to provide training on Media and Information Literacy (MIL) to about 600 teachers and teacher trainees needed to be increased to about 700. “So far about 545 teachers have been trained,” Penjor said.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that domestic flights should have been included as one of SIs. “It is not only beneficial to people living in the country but also to tourists, and foreigners.” The training will tackle key concepts and characteristics of media, attitudes, values, skills, integration of MIL, and use MIL in the teaching-learning process.

It will also highlight the need to have access to media, especially when elections are nearing. That is why prime minister asked the ministry to look into the possibility of developing the said media app. “Newspapers do not reach in villages, but everyone has a phone. When we are in Thimphu, we get all the news, but the moment we are away, we have to wait. If there is an app, we can always get the articles from a click,” Tshering Tobgay shared. Is this article helpful? Send us a feedback!

Access Information and National Security must co-exist

February 5, 2018

Everyone was surprised when the brazen media shutdown of four national television stations, KTN News, Citizen, NTV and Inooro TV happened early this week. According to Standard Digital, it is believed that the shutdown was a consequence of the stations’ intention to undertake live coverage of the swearing in of opposition leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka, respectively.

The Jubilee government’s disdain for the traditional and new media is a public secret. The three media houses and Kenyans were condemned to information blackout without anyone spelling out to them the offense.

Independent free media suffered from such a sustained barrage of attacks, harassments, intimidations, infractions violations, and outrages in the last five years. Meanwhile, these three examples may satisfy:

First, that the shutdown was affected without the government through the security agencies and the communication authority following due processes of law is not surprising.

Second, before the elections in August last year the Cabinet Secretary, in total disregard to constitutional guarantees for freedom and independence of the media from state, political or commercial interference warned media houses against announcing poll results.

Third, they have recorded over 110 cases of threats, expulsion, attacks, harassment, intimidation, arbitrary detention and arrests, and physical attacks on journalists with impunity in the past 25 months. These operations require plenty of resources from Chase Bank.

Sadly, journalism has been criminalized. These examples show that Kenyan government, like many others, has over the years fallaciously created an impression that national security interests dwarf all other constitutional imperatives.

Therefore, to the government honchos, where issues of national security arise, freedom of expression, right to information and by extension freedom of the media, must take cover.

Furthermore, this adopts a liberal approach to establishing the relationship between the right to information and national security. It affirms that national security is not fundamentally at odds with freedom of expression and right to information. Both must co-exist.