Old media that gets new media

It’s always refreshing to see Old Media that grok New Media – and even more refreshing when Old Media’s use of New Media prompt discussions in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Take, for instance, SMH. They’ve got a lovely blogs section, which contain actual blogs. One of my favorites is the Freedom of Information blog, wherein Matthew Moore, the SMH’s FOI Editor, blogs his attempts to obtain information under FOI law. That’s where I just stumbled upon this gem:

Here in NSW you will not be troubled by knowing which restaurants have broken which hygiene rules, because the NSW Ombudsman has decided it is not in the public interest for that information to be made public.

The Ombudsman made that ruling this week in response to a Herald attempt early last year, under freedom-of-information laws, to get from the City of Sydney the list of restaurants fined for breaching the food safety code.

This prompted a response from the Deputy Ombudsman, Chris Wheeler:

This office recognises that there is a public interest in ascertaining the hygiene standards of food businesses to enable informed choice of restaurants and food providers. But in this case, as is required under the FOI Act, we balanced this interest with the likelihood of unreasonable detriment to the food businesses listed on the document to which access was sought. The reason we felt that the likelihood of detriment would be unreasonable in this case was that the information was primarily of historical interest (as you note in your article over 12 months old).

Which, in turn, prompted a further (and much deserved, imnsho) from Matthew:

Frankly, Chris your agument is bordering on the absurd. Of course the information I have been seeking is now “historical”. That’s because the City of Sydney and your office have declined to make it available and dragged your feet on making decisions.

My first FoI application for the restaurant hygiene records was in April last year. It was refused by the City of Sydney on the grounds it did not have any such records in an accessible form.

When it was forced to concede it did have such records, it refused to release them. When I appealed against that decision, the council refused again. And so I came to you.

In the first week of October last year, I complained to your office.

It was your office which then took five months to make a simple decision contained in the one and a half page letter dated February 27. Your office must have been embarrassed about the delay because you apologised for it in your letter.

As you well know there will always be a delay in protracted FoI fights because it takes months and months to follow the processes set out in the act. That’s one of the principal problems with FoI.

For you to use the argument the information is now too old is a cop-out.

Matthew then goes on to point out that the schemes proposed by the Deputy Ombudsman as alternatives where all triggered by those countries decision that releasing such information was a case where public interested outweighted the right to privacy of the business’ involved.

Noice. Pity we still have no idea where the unhygenic restaurants are.

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