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Access to Information in the Time of COVID-19: Obstacles and Opportunities in Canadian Journalism
Access to Information (ATI) is an essential component of a journalist’s toolbox, and a precondition for quality journalism, original storytelling, and in-depth investigative reporting. Using ATI to uncover and tell stories about hidden systemic issues, corruption, and failures of power, journalists can fulfill their “watchdog” role. Simply put, without access, many important news stories cannot be told. However, it is well known that navigating Canada’s federal ATI system can be a frustrating endeavour due to long delays, lack of explanation regarding decisions made, and high rates of non-disclosure. This is especially true for journalists, as many have indicated a bureaucratic “culture of secrecy” presents serious obstacles to accessing government information. As a result, the quality of journalism is hampered by incomplete information, and the ability of citizens to make informed choices in the political sphere is obstructed. Despite promises to reform the system and increase government transparency, the Trudeau Liberals’ Bill C-58 has received much critique despite becoming law in June 2019. Some critics worry the amendments further impede access to government information, undermine freedom of the press, and threaten democracy. Some of the elements of Bill C-58 that have raised serious concerns include changes that require applicants to provide increased detail about what they are requesting, language that indicates government institutions can decline what they view as “frivolous or vexatious” or “bad faith” requests, and an increasing number of exemptions. This presentation will report on an ongoing research project focused on federal ATI and journalistic practice in Canada. Based on government statistics and Canadian news media data, it begins with an overview of the ATI system in the context of journalism and the COVID-19 pandemic. It then turns to the recurring themes that emerged through interviews with 17 Canadian journalists that sought to capture first-pe

Jul 6, 2021 02:00 PM in Central Time (US and Canada)

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