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Freedom of information and journalistic content in Western Australia and Sweden

McHoul, A. and Lidberg, J. (2002) Freedom of information and journalistic content in Western Australia and Sweden. In: Conference on the Public Right to Know, 13 - 15 September 2002, University of Technology Sydney, N.S.W


Does a far-reaching Freedom of Information (FoI) regime influence journalistic content? The short answer is - it does.

This paper outlines the findings of a content analyses study comparing the Perth based West Australian with the Swedish newspaper Nya Wermlandstidningen.

The backbone of the project is the creation of a database of articles using the QSR NUDIST qualitative research software. The stories were reduced to a set of codes dealing with the sourcing of the information in the articles and entered into the software.

The most important finding of the study is how different the main sourcing of information is in the articles produced by the two papers. This is based on how the reporters search for and access information. The Swedish journalists use the country’s extensive FoI laws as their main information gathering tool, while their Western Australian colleagues use oral sources, such as contacts and leaks, as their main sources of information. This does have implications in terms of journalistic independence, an issue discussed in the paper.

The paper also outlines the main differences in the FoI regimes in WA and Sweden and how this impacts on journalistic practice. Swedish and Western Australian journalists work in very different environments when it comes to access to information. In Sweden public servants act as facilitators rather than gatekeepers when reporters ask for documents. Oral requests to access documents is the norm and the system is very fast usually providing same day access. In WA the opposite situation is true. The FoI system is cumbersome and slow, and as the study discussed in this paper shows, this has an impact on the journalistic product.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Media, Communication and Culture
Notes: See:
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