Monday, 20 June 2011

WE SHOULD MAKE INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM SOMETHING THAT IS ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE

© Copyright Adam Tinworth and licensed for reuse. This is not an endorsement of my post.
Acclaimed journalist Heather Brooke has an interesting opinion on the subject of citizen journalism which I felt had some relevance to Thanet District Council's latest decision to shun bloggers and only play ball with the local mainstream media. Though I don't quite share the view of Michael Child and Tony Flaig that removing bloggers from TDC's press mailing list is an overt attempt to censor freedom of expression, I do feel that refusing to take press queries from bloggers is a daft decision with potentially grim implications for the future of the Thanet blogosphere.

I'd be very interested to know what Heather Brooke makes of it. Brooke's stature in her respective field of investigative journalism is remarkable. Last year, she won the Judges' Prize at the British Press Awards for her tireless work in pushing the House of Commons to make full disclosure of MPs' expenses (which, thanks to her efforts, had become a national scandal). Brooke has also spoken of how “technology gives people the ability to band together and challenge authority in ways that were previously impossible” and has penned a book called The Silent State: Secrets, Surveillance and the Myth of British Democracy which is highly critical of, as she puts it, “the very intense culture of secrecy in Britain.” In short, she really knows her stuff.

Upon being asked a question about citizen journalism in a YouTube video, Heather Brooke responded by saying:

"I think it's a really interesting concept that we make investigative journalism something that is accessible to everyone. So it's not just for experts. I mean, certainly there's a role for experts and people like myself who know about Freedom of Information or other sort of specialist topics, but everybody in a commmunity has some specialist knowledge. You know, maybe they know something about where they live, their street, a particular section of the council, so everybody can bring something into an investigation.

“It's not something they should feel that [it's something] they can't do, everybody can be curious and ask questions, and the problem now is that we don't have local papers, we don't have a lot of local journalists who can be asking those questions. So if there's not people, you know, [if] we don't have these people – journalists, papers – well who's gonna be asking the councillor 'Well why did you spend that money? Why did you go on this trip?' It's gonna have to be the man in the street, or the woman in the street."

So what does this have to do with local bloggers here in Thanet? Well, I'd say everything – what Heather Brooke says reminds me that the internet grants ordinary people the opportunity to set up a blog and hold authority to account, so if a local council appears to discriminate between bloggers and journalists, then this is an obstacle to democratic participation and flies in the face of the public's right to know.

I expressed the view yesterday that if Thanet Council prohibits bloggers from making press queries then it may have the side-effect of stifling and discouraging potential journalists (and, conversely, other concerned members of the public) from finding out information from the council through more direct means than FOI. Granted, people can still put in FOI requests should they choose to do so, but it's no secret that it takes a long time to yield results through this method.

For Thanet District Council to only deal with 'accredited media' draws a clear line in the sand between those who the council feels have a right to directly ask them questions, and those who don't, and I fear it will only be ordinary members of the public who will lose out as a result of this. Though on the surface the move was apparently made to cut costs, it does seem a bit short sighted and could be interpreted by some as demonstrating a lack of willingness to deal with genuine public enquiry, choosing instead only to deal with media professionals.

Anyway, take a look at the full video below and see what you think:


4 comments:

  1. Sadly it seems paranoia reigns at TDC. The refusal to provide bloggers and presumably anyone else access to information about decisions, projects or anything else the Council does will only lead to two things, first more FOI requests and second the publishing of anything you feel like publishing based soley on your perception not facts.
    This certainally is NOT the way to become a modern, open Council one of their stated aims.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Heather Brooke was also the inspiration behind a number if successful FOI requests for information in Thanet. Now the information is out there, it people can begin to see for themselves if they read the detail:
    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/humbug_shop_building_16_marine_d#incoming-186784

    ReplyDelete
  3. doesn't surprise me at all following my experience - which is still ongoing from January 2012 - of trying to progress a complaint through TDC's so-called 3 stage procedure, as it is stated on the website.
    Since mid-March the person dealing with my complaint has refused to communicate with me or even acknowledge my emails and requests for information. No updates have been provided, dates for my receiving a response are given and then pass with nothing being received and no explanation as to why, and he will not progress my complaint onto the 3rd stage of the process. In effect they are blocking my complaint. This means I have no access to the Local Government Ombudsman.
    Having contacted the Ombudsman to ask what I can do about this situation, as I will never have access to them if TDC continues with this behaviour, they deigned to email TDC merely to ask if my complaint was being dealt with! Of course they received the same response I have been given over and over that it will coming 'shortly'! And they repeat that back to me, without seeming to understand what is going on! Alternatively they do know exactly what is going on and are protecting TDC and approving their actions! I know which I believe, given the way my family and our complaint has been treated with such contempt!
    As my complaint is about a very serious matter, and there is a seriously injured child at the centre of it all, I would have thought TDC could have been more responsible with the way they have acted, even more so in the light of all the negative media attention TDC has attracted in recent weeks!
    They are demonstrating, by acting in this way towards my family, that they have utter contempt for us members of the public. And funnily enough, anyone with some authority in our society that I have contacted about this, either cannot help, or doesn't seem surprised or shocked or disgusted by what is happening to my family and this complaint...yet all the 'ordinary' member of the public to whom I have spoken find it as galling and distressing and disgusting as we do! Says a lot don't you think?!

    ReplyDelete
  4. btw am loving your blog! Glad I found you!

    ReplyDelete