Media release: Information Reforms Change Media Reporting—20 December 2011

The Queensland Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) commissioned a study into changes in media reporting following the right to information ((RTI) reforms in 2009. The study found the RTI reforms have resulted in fewer negative media reports about government secrecy and an increased focus on the topic being reported.

As a part of Queensland’s 2009 RTI reforms, it became law that public sector executives could no longer consider embarrassment to the government, or mischievous conduct by the recipient of information, as a reason to withhold information. Theoretically, this and other changes in the law opened up the possibility that public sector information previously withheld would now be released. More open government should result in less media criticism of government secrecy. To test this hypothesis, OIC commissioned the University of Queensland School of Journalism and Communication to conduct a study that culminated in a report, entitled Changes in Media Reporting after Right to Information Laws in Queensland.

The study found that during the pre-reform period (January–November 2007), media reporting focused on a broken FOI system that allowed government to hide information of public interest. As a result two stories commonly ensued; one about government actions, and the other, invariably negative, about government secrecy.

Media reporting during the reform period (December 2007–June 2009) reflected a transitional phase with repeated references to the promise of a policy that requires proactive or administrative release of government information as a matter of course. With increased access to information in the post-reform period (July 2009–January 2011) media largely reported only one story, the course of action taken by the agency.

The study suggests media reporting now focuses on the issue or decision at hand, rather than the withholding of public information. Queensland’s Information Commissioner, Ms Julie Kinross said, “This study indicates there seems to be a discernable shift away from a perception of FOI as ‘a concept which was broken’ to an attitude of optimism toward the RTI reforms and its objective of opening up government. The study has clear messages for both the public sector and the media. The public sector can reduce negative media stories, ironically by being more transparent. The media can play its part in ensuring the RTI reforms work and encouraging public sector agencies to be more transparent if media ensures its reports report the facts fairly and in a balanced way.”

Media contact: Mr Steve Haigh, Manager, Training and Stakeholder Relations
Phone: 07 3405 1111