by tara carr
cook islands news
Information held by government agencies is public information, participants were told at a media workshop yesterday.
“The point here is that information that government holds on you is not theirs, it’s yours,” said Bill Southworth, the executive director of the New Zealand Journalism Training Organisation. “It’s not the property of the government, it’s the property of the public.”
Around 15 people, including media representatives, government officials, prime minister Dr Robert Woonton – who opened the week-long workshop — and deputy prime minister Ngamau Munokoa, sat in on the session on freedom of information at the Pukapuka hostel yesterday morning.
Southworth said that while most people do not exercise their right to access information, they rely on, and expect, the media to inform them on things that are happening in the community.
“But the media has no more right than any citizen.”
Southworth, who has previously worked as the editor of the Fiji Sun, touched on basic principles which underlie freedom of information laws, and he stressed that any proposed legislation should be guided by the principle of maximum disclosure. However he said that there are instances when agencies should not release information for reasons of national security, law enforcement, personal privacy or commercial secrecy.
Workshop participants heard that having the right to freedom of information would help the public live in a less corrupt society, make sure their human rights are respected, help make the country more secure, lead to better decision-making, and help to make the political system more democratic.
Article 64(e) of the Cook Islands constitution gives all Cook Islanders the right to freedom of speech and expression. Another session on freedom of information will be held this morning, beginning at 9am.