INTRODUCTION:In a letter to the Irish Times (19 July 2000), Cllr Dermot Lacey has suggested that the national broadcaster should establish a website showing details of all unbroadcast comments from the public. This would enable the public to see for themselves if broadcast comments were in fact truly representative.COMMENT:
He also suggested something similar for the print media.
This is an excellent suggestion.
It is generally assumed by the public that most comments (and letters) submitted are published. For space reasons alone, this is rarely possible. Therefore, selection is a fact of life. This makes us dependent, then, on the integrity of the publisher. Without some form of audit, as suggested by Cllr Lacey, we have no means of knowing if opinions published are representative of the views of the public or of the publisher.
Where RTE itself is concerned, however, "openness" is not something the organisation welcomes with open arms. RTE has in fact obtained substantial exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act. For instance, it is exempt from supplying information relating to "The gathering and recording in any form of news, information, data, opinions, on or off the record quotes or views from any person or body or source, for journalistic or programme content purposes". QED, one might say.
That doesn't mean the matter should not be tested. Appeal may be made to the FOI Commissioner, who holds the view that "The act is designed to shed light on the working of any public bodies and that is what it's all about." If the Act is not achieving that in RTE's case, an illusion is be perpetuated.
More on this subject and on "access" later on on this site.
7 September 2000