To advance debate on these issues, a Legal Leaks training seminar was organized by UNESCO in cooperation with Access Info Europe, the South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM) and the Albanian Media Institute. Around 30 participants joined that event, which took place in Tirana on 4 and 5 June 2014.
“The Albanian access to information law has been in force since 1999. It is now in the process of being amended to improve its scope and the procedure of accessing information. The law is not much used by journalists and citizens, which is a problem,” said Remzi Lani, Director of the Albanian Media Institute.
During the seminar, specific emphasis was made on the fact that freedom of information is a fundamental right that has been regulated in 97 laws around the world. This means that journalists can request information not only in their own country but also in other countries and from international institutions. During the seminar, Access Info Europe shared success stories of journalists who have requested information internationally, and tips on how to do it.
The journalists shared their experiences requesting information from Albanian public bodies, which have had mixed success. A number of lawyers at the seminar presented their experiences in challenging refusals to provide information in the courts and are fighting for the right of journalists and civil society not to pay fees to appeal other cases in the courts.
A presentation by Gent Ibrahimi, of the Institute for Policy and Legal Studies, reviewed the current law and outlined some shortcomings, and then explained how these would be addressed in the new law. These include reducing the time frame for responses. Another important proposed improvement is to ensure that data can be accessed in multiple formats, including open, machine-readable formats.
Data expert Gjergj Erebara gave inspiring examples of data journalism and reviewed possible techniques and strategies which can be used by Albanian journalists. These included data visualization programmes available online. One issue which arose in debate is the poor quality and lack of detail in datasets published in Albania, something which civil society is arguing should be improved, particularly with Albania now a member of the Open Government Partnership.
On the second day, participants discussed initiatives to establish a media self-regulatory body in Albania and issues of media ethics in the country, with Lufti Dervishi, a self-regulation expert. They noted that while there has been some progress in the quality of journalism during the past twenty years, the process of establishing a fully functioning self-regulatory system will take time and needs more debate in the media community and in society in general.
Helen Darbishire of Access Info rounded off the workshop with a session on how to deal with and protect whistleblowers, including with considerations of data security.
The event took place in the framework of the EU-UNESCO project: “Media Accountability in South East Europe”, which started in January 2013. The training was the second in a series of local events now taking place in the region.
To help media professionals get information held by public bodies for their stories, a Legal Leaks training seminar was organized by UNESCO in cooperation with Access Info Europe, the South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM) and the Press Council of Kosovo. Around 30 participants joined the event, which took place on 2 and 3 June 2014 in Pristina, Kosovo (as defined under UN Security Resolution 1244).
The right to freedom of information is a fundamental human right. Behind it lays the idea that public bodies are elected by the people and sustained by taxpayers’ funds. The public should therefore have a right to know how the power is being used and how that money is being spent. More generally, using access to information laws can invigorate and strengthen journalism, thereby contributing to improving the quality of public debates, increased public participation in decision-making, and thus more open and democratic societies.
During the seminar, journalists received a toolkit designed for journalists working in newspapers, radio and television, as well as bloggers, to access information held by public bodies and appeal refusals. The Legal Leaks Toolkit has been tailored to the local legislation and language by legal experts from BIRN Kosovo (The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network). Helen Darbishire, a trainer from Access Info Europe, emphasized that “journalists might need to change the culture in the newsroom and persuade editors that submitting an access to information request is not a waste of time but is actually a useful part of your journalistic activity.”
On the second day, journalists were given a lecture by Ibrahim Berisha, Board Director of the Press Council of Kosovo, about the essentials of journalistic ethics. Participants were also trained to protect the confidentiality of their sources and discussed ethical dilemmas related to whistleblowing and leaking of information. A session was led by Access Info Europe with practical exercises on how to ensure the security of data and how to check the credibility of a whistleblower.
The event took place in the framework of the EU-UNESCO project “Promoting Media Accountability in South East Europe and Turkey”, which started in January 2013. The training was the first in a series of local events that will take place in each of the project’s target countries.
In November 2012 the study was launched by UNESCO’s Kingston Office with the assistance of two Caribbean consulting firms. The study examined such aspects as awareness levels, relevant policy and legislative support and the use of free and open source software, open data, open education resources and open standards by governments, the private sector, civil society and individuals.
The study revealed that countries in the region were at very different stages of development in this area. In Belize for instance, national training activities began as early as 1997 and this has contributed to the development of significant national capacity which has enabled educational institutions like the Corozal Community College to provide a range of services to high-school students and persons enrolled in adult education programmes. In Trinidad and Tobago, several open data portals have been established that support activities in the agricultural, financial and law enforcement sectors and through an innovative Fisheries Project, many families who depend on fishing have experienced positive benefits.
While most Caribbean countries and territories surveyed have national ICT policies in place, with the exceptions of Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, they contain little if any explicit reference to FOSS and Open Solutions. The study however came at an opportune moment as it has served to sensitize several ongoing policy-reviews to the need and benefits of Open Solutions which in turn is paving the way for their incorporation into the national frameworks and strategies. Nevertheless, even among some countries without direct policy references there is active use of open solutions as was seen in Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Curacao and Grenada particularly in applications such as archive and records management, education and disaster management services.
The findings of the IFAP study were first presented at the Caribbean Open Data Conference and Code Sprint, which was held in April 2013 under the theme Developing the Caribbean. The event which was simultaneously organized in 7 countries provided an important opportunity to discuss emerging findings with regional practitioners and gain broader insights into experiences, lessons and possible remedies. Participants welcomed the IFAP initiative.
In July 2013, a consultation meeting attended by some 40 regional policy-makers was organized in St Lucia and this served to validate the findings and to support the development of national implementation roadmaps.
Through IFAP and other UNESCO programmes, these national plans and the recommendation of the study will be supported during the 2014-2016 biennium. Already the lessons and experiences from the Caribbean captured in the report are attracting the attention of countries and partners in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, supporting and informing pilot initiatives in these regions.
The intergovernmental Information for All Programme was established in 2001. It provides a platform for international policy discussions, cooperation and the development of guidelines for action in the area of access to information and knowledge. The Programme supports Member States to develop and implement national information policy and strategy frameworks.