09 September 2009

Freedom from Information: thousands of bucks for the Premier’s public speeches, redacted

It’s a bit of a hairy-assed editing job but the youtube video posted by VOCM includes a curious reference by the Premier to some of the access to information requests that he finds problematic.

You’ll find it at around the 1:45 mark. 

Danny Williams bitches about a request for copies of every speech he’s given as a politician.

That’s right. 

The guy who used to think that openness and freedom of information are good things has a problem with someone wanting copies of speeches he gave in public and for which texts exist.

This is the kind of thing that politicians would normally make readily available as a matter of course via the Internet.

Take a second a look around the Internet.  Try googling “speaking notes”  Politicians actually like people to find their speeches, even when the speeches are appallingly bad. 

Why back in the time before the Internet, when your humble e-scribbler used to edit transcripts of speeches by another Premier, the Premier’s Office would photocopy and send out speeches  - wait for it - free of charge, on request.  If the Internet had existed, we’d have published the damn things on the Internet as soon as we could largely because the Internet is a free means to disseminate information. 

in those days, speeches were records of government policy.  They were important because people could actually hold government accountable as a result of things said in speeches. And that Premier understood that as uncomfortable as it might be, the public had a right to hold their elected officials to account.   Certainly, no one in his office spent time micromanaging the living hell out of the entire government access to information system.

But that was then.

This is now.

And  the people looking for stuff like speeches are not people out to get this Premier or any other politician.  Ordinary folks like to see what commitments were made.  Academics like to see what was said and trace the history of an idea.  It’s all legitimate, normal and nothing for someone  - especially a politician - to get into a paranoiac lather over. 

But just take a breath and think about where Danny Williams’ head is on freedom of information.

Not only does Danny Williams force people to file an access to information request for copies of speeches he has given – they aren’t available otherwise -  he then bitches about the fact that people are interested in what he has to say.

Now in the case of that particular request, your humble e-scribbler happens to know about it.  An e-mail turned up in ye olde Bond Papers inbox giving the background and the horrendous amount of money Danny Williams’ office was demanding for delivering the speeches in hard copy only, even though they are available electronically.

If memory serves, we are talking thousands of dollars.  The speeches had to be produced in hard copy – supposedly – because the Premier’s Office claimed the speeches that were delivered in various public fora would have to be reviewed and possibly redacted.


Bits cut out of a public speech?

And no, they weren’t kidding.

The whole thing has gone off to the information commissioner where it sits, alongside a few other examples of the Premier’s Office efforts to frustrate public disclosure of information that should be in the public domain.

And people wonder why Alice in Wonderland is an apt source of metaphors for politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.