Court reports are not just of interest to the public; they meet a great public interest. In a liberal democracy that prizes individual freedoms, all branches of government are rightly subject to the scrutiny of an ever-watchful public. Reporters perform an essential role in ensuring that members of the public learn of what is being done in their courts and why… This is so important a task that – except insofar as is necessary to ensure that the right of every citizen to her or his good name is protected and capable of vindication – the media must go relatively unconstrained in their efforts. Our individual freedoms are more fully assured in the collective freedom of journalists to discharge the role so eloquently identified for them by the late President Kennedy, in a speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association back in 1961, being “not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasise the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply ‘give the public what it wants’ – but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mould, educate and sometimes even anger public opinion”, and, it might be added, not just to report, but to comment.
The Big Lie, Part One: Spout any old bull you like, so long as it panders to the audience’s prejudices. Indulge yourself. Cite bogus studies.
The Big Lie, Part Two: When corrected, do not address your directly. Repeat the lie. Preface with “What the PC brigade won’t tell you is…”
The Big Lie, Part Three: Keep going until the media stop calling your lie a lie, instead referring to “a controversial topic”. Start over.
In March 2012, I sent a Freedom of Information request to the Department of Social Protection (DSP), looking for the Jobbridge database.
By July of the same year, DSP had replied with some of what I sought, but I had some problems, and so an appeals process began.
My first problem was the DSP refusal to provide details of companies which had asked for anonymity during the advertising process. Internally, these are referred to as “Closed Vacancy” companies. About one in five advertisements for Jobbridge internships are closed vacancy, that is, the applicant does not know what company is advertising the post.
The second problem was the refusal to hand over a field called “COMPANY_ID”. This field is the only way to link the company placing an advertisement with the job it is advertising. DSP said this was confidential information and releasing it would constitute a security breach which could unleash evil hackers in some unspecificed manner.
Finally, there’s a field in the Database which indicates whether or not a company requested anonymity. It’s basically a “Yes/No” button, called “ANONYMOUS”. We’ll come back to that later.
As it turns out, when DSP sent me a database in July 2012, they accidentally sent me the names of the Closed Vacancy companies. I didn’t know this at the time, and I appealed the Department’s refusal to provide me with the names of Closed Vacancy companies. The internal appeal was upheld in the Department’s favour, and so I then began an external appeal, to the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC).
In December 2014, OIC got back to me to let me know they’d issue a decision shortly, and to bring me up to date on their thinking. It was at this point that I first learned that I already had the Closed Vacancy companies. OIC explained that, since DSP had given me the Closed Vacancy names, the question was moot, and it would not decide the issue of whether DSP was required to hand over Closed Vacancy names. In return, I pointed out the database they had sent me was almost three years old, and I intended once a decision was made to ask for a fresh database with up-to-date names, and if they didn’t make a decision, then I’d have to go through the entire appeals process again, which would take another three years.
The OIC decided not to decide about Closed Vacancy names, as they first indicated. On the up side, the OIC did make some “General Observations” at the end of the decision. Reading them optimistically, they appear to say in effect that, if the issue arose again, OIC would be inclined to find in my favour.
However, observations are not binding, and DSP could easily delay for another few years until an appeals process plays itself out.
Happily, OIC did decide I had a right to COMPANY_ID numbers, so I will now receive a database with meaning, and not a list of internships orphaned from the companies advertising them.
I had emailed a request for a fresh database (including Closed Vacancy companies) to DSP today. They can decide to release those names, or I can enter the appeals process again. So ar, it’s been two years and eleven months…
Update 2: There’s some fine tuning to take care of before the information is released, since the database is quite large (I have no interest in fax numbers, for instance) but the Department of Social Protection has indicated to me today (24 February 2015) that it will release the names of Closed Vacancy companies.
In response to a letter from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland about coverage of same sex marriage, RTE politely responded that it knew how balance worked. I previously published a copy of the BAI’s letter to RTE, which I obtained from the BAI itself.
Below are the letter and the official RTE response, obtained through an FOI request to RTE.
Maybe the problem is Charlie Haughey wasn’t that interesting.
In a way, he wasn’t. I grew up with CJH as Taoiseach, yet no matter how many times I was assured he was a charismatic, powerful and dominant presence, I never saw it.
I saw another dull grey politician, and Ireland being Ireland, it wasn’t that hard to read between the lines of the regular newspaper profiles. Unexplained wealth? You mean the explanation is defamatory? Gotcha.
It wasn’t until later I found out how venal he was. I had in mind dodgy land deals, maybe a payoff here and there. Stealing Brian Lenihan’s liver transplant money? That I didn’t see coming.
There were half a dozen plots crammed into the first episode of Charlie. Any one of them could make a good drama. Instead, they were like signposts on a coach tour, places to look out the window at as we sped by.
The liver fund is a film in its own. It encapsulates the small minded thuggery and corruption of Haughey’s Ireland. But it won’t be the story we get. Instead we’ll have dull exposition about Dessie and the PDs, Sean Doherty and the phones, SPUC and the rosary clutchers.