Towards a qualitative approach to evaluating access to information legislation

TitleTowards a qualitative approach to evaluating access to information legislation
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Lidberg, J., R. Breit, and P. Henman
Affiliation (1st Author)Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Section or WGJournalism Research and Education Section
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodeJRE T3a
Slot Code (Keyword)JRE T3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
Session TitleNew News in the context of Social Media Theme II: Innovations in Journalism
Submission ID5149

Many news and media organisations around the globe are dealing with the current transformations in the field of journalism by making reporters redundant. This is making it harder for newsrooms to fulfil one of its most important roles – keeping societal power to account. The demands on the reporters still in employ are heightened and the need for independent and well functioning access to government held information is more important than ever. The aim of this project is to develop a replicable methodology that can be used to measure and rank the functionality of Freedom of Information laws and systems globally. The first phase utilises a case study of push-model Freedom of Information (FOI) regimes in Australia, which require the administrative release of government information unless contrary to the public interest, this paper develops a typology of essential literacy relating to access to information in the digital environment. To achieve this aim, the research: □ Conducted an online audit of Government websites to gauge website accessibility in qualitative terms. □ Reviewed relevant national and international literature, from a range of relevant disciplines and formats, including annual reports and government submissions. □ Analysed the type of literacies essential to access to government information. Data generated from the online audit were analysed thematically and used to characterise the types of knowledge and skills (literacies) essential to the effective use of FOI legislation in a digital environment. The resulting typology of literacies is directed at helping to understand how information communications technology, ICT, can be used more effectively to enhance government transparency and accountability. Thus when evaluating performance of Freedom of Information regimes, the focus shifts from quantitative metrics measuring administrative efficacy to a more qualitative approach aimed at identifying the accessibility and useability of government information. Push-model FOI reform will be implemented in a number of countries in the next few years and requires a different set of user skills compared to the first generation FOI laws. Hence, this project is vital for journalistic practice in that it will identify these skills in conjunction with assessing FOI functionality. In conclusion the paper outlines the second phase in this project that aims to assess all FOI systems, state and federal, in Australia. This is particularly interesting, as half of the Australian laws have recently been reformed, while the other half are still first generation FOI regimes. Working journalists will be recruited as collaborators in testing FOI functionality in Australia. It is anticipated that the methodology developed can be used to conduct FOI functionality tests on a global scale with minor local adaptations. This paper addresses the first and second themes of the IAMCR Journalism Research and Education Section: International Collaborative Research in Journalism Research: New Challenges and Emergent Perspectives. Innovations in Journalism.

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