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Journalists Abandoning ATI

The latest annual report on the Access to Information Act indicates that journalists are abandoning this vital transparency tool in record numbers.

Treasury Board’s 2022-2023 statistics on use of the Act, released Dec. 20, shows that fewer than 10 per cent of general requests filed that year came from members of the media. That’s less than half the level just five years previous.

The government used to break down the categories of users filing requests – business, public, media, etc. – but stopped doing so in 2022. Instead, it now posts only data-heavy spreadsheets.

The buried numbers nevertheless show a steady decline in media use for at least a decade, even as general use by the public and others increases.

The Liberal government in 2016 eliminated all access-to-information fees except the application fee, so cost is not an explanation for the drop in media use. And an online application process has made it easier to file a request, despite a clunky website.

Rather, growing delays in responses to media requests have made the access-to-information process a pointless exercise for many journalists, who now face ever-shorter deadlines in the digital news ecosystem.

Treasury Board’s report shows more than a quarter of all federal departments violated legislated response deadlines, which are already too generous to the government.

So endemic delays are hobbling the profession right out of the starting gate. The Liberal government has touted its support for Canada’s journalists, but its failure to reform access-to-information continues to undermine them.