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Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative National Workshop Media and the Right to Information October 7, 2004, New Delhi.

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Presentation on theme: "Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative National Workshop Media and the Right to Information October 7, 2004, New Delhi."— Presentation transcript:

1 Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative National Workshop Media and the Right to Information October 7, 2004, New Delhi

2 The Problem  Police routinely under-reported crimes to keep crime-rate artificially low Downgrading Crime to Bolster Police Image Broward County, Miami, Florida, USA- 2004  Thefts and assaults were routinely under-reported  Police recorded lower offences in place of actual crimes reported by complainants  Complainants were persuaded not to give written reports of crime  Crimes artificially solved by attributing them to people who were jailed or using bogus confessions

3  The Sheriff’s Office refused to respond to cases picked up by the Miami Herald in its review  Broward State attorney’s office initially said such incidents were isolated but later conceded that they were widespread Action Taken  The Review Board of the Sheriff’s office recommended suspensions ranging from one day to 7 days for 13 Constable level officers.

4 The Issue  Standoff between Native Canadians and Ontario Police at Ipperwash Provincial Park Tape Exposes Police Baiting Unarmed Protesters with Racist Remarks Agitated Native Canadian Shot Dead Later Ontario Canada, 1995 case exposed in 2004  Policemen made racist remarks to lure protesters out of the Park  Police Sergeant shot dead Dudley George when h e came out of the Park  Police taped the incident posing as TV crew  Conservative Party Government consistently refused to hold an enquiry  New Liberal Party Government promised enquiry in its election campaign

5 Media Intervention  CBC News obtained tape under FOI request and made the issue public Action Taken  Scope of inquiry was broadened to include scrutiny of police action  Police Association issued public apology  Sergeant was convicted for criminal negligence causing death

6 Putting the Money where it is Needed Most Millions Unspent while Kids Suffered Lead Poisoning Detroit, Michigan, USA 2003 The Problem  More than 2000 children suffer brain damage and poor growth due to lead poisoning  Rs. 69 crores available for providing them medical and housing benefits to families  Michigan Community Health Department did not know whom to give it to  Detroit’s worst hit block did not receive any funds

7 Media Intervention  Detroit Free Press filed FOIA request for Health Department Database on lead poisoning.  Health Department denied it had this database. Then demanded fees of Rs.1 lakh for a copy  Detroit Free Press filed a lawsuit. Inquiry revealed 500,000 records of lead poisoning existed since 1997.  Court ordered release of these documents Action Taken  Health Department has started using database to pinpoint neighbourhoods to target fund delivery.

8 4000 Sacked Workers Shortchanged in Social Security Scheme Australia, 2004 The Problem  When companies went broke workers’ entitlements like unpaid wages and leave encashment were left high and dry  In 2001 Government set up a safety-net scheme to make full payments to all workers whose companies wound up  Government promised 100% payment to at least 90% of sacked workers  But payments not made on time and in full

9 Media Intervention  The Australian filed an FOIA request with the Employment Department  Records show Government owes more than Rs. 120 crores to workers  Every 5th worker is yet to receive more than Rs. 3 lakhs in wages and leave encashments  Part payments also delayed by more than one year

10 Revealing Information in Public Interest USA, 2004 The Issue  13,000 worksites in USA have high risk and injury rates  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes only names of such sites  Rates of risk and injury are recorded but not published

11 Media Intervention  NYT applied to OSHA for injury and risk rates in 2002  OSHA refused saying -  it was commercial information with companies and therefore confidential  NYT appealed to Federal District Court  it needed clearances from all 13,000 workplaces– too cumbersome and expensive to collect  Judge ordered release of information saying-  OSHA’s objections were misplaced and illogical.  Detroit Carmakers in another case had no objection to releasing similar data

12 PM Misled Australian Parliament and the Voters Australia, 2002 Issue – 1: Treatment of Boat-people : Tampa crisis  433 asylum seekers – mostly Afghanis on board the boat - Tampa sought asylum in Australia in 2001  PM John Howard refused to let them land saying they were not ‘genuine refugees’  PM told Parliament nobody required urgent medical assistance.  He struck a Rs. 91 crore deal with neighbouring island of Nauru and deported the boat-people to a detention centre there

13 Issue – 2: Children Overboard Affair  Another group of boat-people tried to seek asylum in Australia in October 2001.  PM Howard told Voters that these were not ‘genuine refugees’ but job seekers who threw their infants overboard. PM Howard subsequently won the November 2001 election for his tough stance against refugees They did not deserve humanitarian consideration

14 Media Intervention  The Sydney Morning Herald obtained copies of Navy log books and classified documents from the Defence Department through FOIA  Records revealed at least four people on board the Tampa needed IV drips  Two were serious cases – one woman was 8 months pregnant  PM Howard was told about this situation 10 minutes before his statement in Parliament  Doctor on board the Tampa had 6 seconds within which to examine each patient  Navy advised humanitarian consideration in the ‘children overboard case’

15  Government refused to consider this and told Navy to tow the boat until they decided what to do with the refugees.  This towing caused the weak boat to breakup. PM Howard misled Parliament and then won a re-election misleading the voters.

16 NASA Misplaces Equipment – Loses Millions Washington USA, 2004 Issue  NASA has lost Rs. 156 crores worth of equipment since 1997  One robot worth Rs. 1.3 crores, 200 computers, cameras and ice machines lost  Acceptable internal norm for missing equipment is 0.5% of inventoried items  But internal audit showed more than 1% equipment was missing Media Intervention  Channel News 4 WOAI-TV in San Antonio filed an FOIA request and shared inventory related documents with Houston Chronicle  Houston Chronicle asked NASA to account for the loss

17 Action Taken  Some items were returned by employees  Where equipment was junked proper records inventories began to be maintained.  An employee who stole equipment was given a fine and a 21 month prison term  Employees are being trained in accounting and inventory keeping skills.

18 Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster: NASA Overlooked Warning Signals Houston, USA 2003 Issue  Columbia was launched in January 2003  It exploded while re-entering the atmosphere in February causing 7 deaths  Kalpana Chawla died in this incident  A piece of foam, which hit the shuttle causing damage during lift off, is being blamed for the explosion

19 Media Intervention  Orlando Sentinel acquired documents relating to the shuttle launch and other documents from NASA through FOIA  Emails, memos and transcripts of internal meeting minutes were shared with the Sentinel  Engineers who saw tapes of Columbia launch warned of the piece of foam and indicated possible threat upon reentry  Complacent decision-making authorities ignored these warnings leading to disaster.  Records revealed engineers sent notes and warning about similar incident during previous shuttle launches

20 BBC News Radio 4 Accessing Information using Foreign RTI Laws London, UK Issue  UK’s Information Access Law will be operational in 2005  But government departments have codes for giving information to the public  BBC journalists applied for letters sent by UK PM Tony Blair to Swedish PM  10 Downing Street refused the request citing possible damage to relations between the countries as the reason

21 Media Intervention  BBC journalists applied to the Swedish Government for the same information  Sweden has the oldest (1776) and arguably the best FOIA laws in the world  They got 20 letters including congratulatory messages from PM Blair  Some related to Blair seeking Swedish support for British positions in the European Union’s negotiations.

22 Vice-President Cheney helps ENRON Recover Debts in India USA, 2002 Issue  ENRON and Maharashtra State Electricity Board agreed to set up the US$ 3 billion Dabhol Power Plant in 1992  Later ENRON pulled out of the project but India had to pay back Enron several hundred crores  Recently ENRON went bankrupt  Bush Administration maintained that it did not help ENRON in any manner despite widespread reports indicating otherwise

23 Media Intervention  Daily News applied to White House for internal documents through FOIA  Internal memos and notes revealed several unsuccessful attempts were made to get President Bush raise the ENRON issue with former PM Vajpayee  But records show VP Richard Cheney raised the issue with Smt. Sonia Gandhi during a visit  Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) insured ENRON against losses resulting from political problems in India  OPIC is a major donor to Bush election Campaign and will have to foot a US$300 million insurance bill if India does not pay up its debts  VP Cheney does not remember this conversation with Smt. Sonia Gandhi

24 Media rushes to use RTI law in Jamaica Jamaica, February 2004  Jamaica passed an RTI law in June 2002 after a strong movement demanding transparency was launched by civil society organizations and the media  It became operational in January 2004  According to the Information Minister the media has made the most number of requests  But the RTI law does not cover all departments The Carter Centre, the Jamaican Bar Association and the Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights have launched a panel of Volunteer lawyers to give free legal aid to requesters who are denied information by Government.

25 Media Audits Implementation of FOIA Northern California, USA, 2004  Media can act as a watchdog on the implementation of information access laws  20 reporters and editors from Contra Costa Times investigated public schools, government agencies and police departments for compliance with FOIA  Only 40% of the agencies gave information readily  Many officials wanted proof of identity from journalists and reasons for seeking information  Seeking identity proof of the requester and reasons for accessing information is common in states with RTI laws in India  A good information access law, if implemented well, should help any individual access public information without having to give reasons for the request.

26 Thank you

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