How accessible is information from Dutch public authorities to journalists?
Journalists in the Netherlands are unhappy about the handling of their requests under the Dutch Open Government Act (Wet open overheid, Woo). They say these requests take too long, produce too little results, and that communication could be better.
This is evident from a survey among 256 journalists which shows that gains can be made if cooperation between officials dealing with Woo requests and journalists is improved. Trust and timely (open) consultation are prerequisites.
The survey was commissioned by the Dutch Advisory Committee on Public Access and Information Management (ACOI) and was published on Thursday 26 October. Centerdata conducted the research, and associate professor Annemarie Drahmann – who specialises in access to government information – was involved in the content of the survey questions and drafting the report. The report and accompanying press release from the ACOI can be read here (in Dutch).
'The Woo is an important instrument for monitoring public authorities which is in the interest of the democratic rule of law'
Platform for investigative journalism Follow the Money asked Annemarie Drahmann what she sees as the most significant outcomes of the survey. ‘The Woo is an important instrument for monitoring public authorities which is in the interest of the democratic rule of law. Journalists are often unable to make use of the Act because it takes too long to get a response to their requests for information. They say it means they make fewer requests, and so they are able to monitor the government less.’ Yet, she says that patience is required when it comes to the Woo: ‘I said at the time that it would take at least six years [before the problems with handling Woo requests would be solved]. The information management has to be in order; that takes time. But more importantly, the administrative culture has to change, and legislation alone won’t achieve that.' Civil servants and journalists can now discuss an information request sooner. 'Then the scope and extent of a request can immediately be defined which means less work for the journalist and for the civil servant, who can immediately search in a targeted manner – win-win.’ According to Drahmann, government officials should take the initiative for such a dialogue. But there has to be enough capacity to do this, and they have to feel comfortable doing so. ‘Now, they are sometimes worried they will accidentally commit to something. So their working environment must also be safe enough. That requires a huge culture shift among civil servants and their managers, but also those at the head of public authorities.’
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