Baldwin versus Whittaker

Baldwin versus Whittaker
Just the day before yesterday, in attempt to obtain formal public information, the woman who processed the request forced me to tell her why I needed that information. I said I'm working on a research.

“What kind of research?” – She asks.

Madam. I say, It’s my job to ask for information, while your job is to deliver it, isn’t this information public?

"Yes, it is public". – She replies.

“Well, then I ask you to get it for me.”

"But who are you and why do you need it?"

With "who are you" you get ridiculed about approaching to deal with this matter, rather than recognizing your engagement (courage) and be served with what the law guarantees to you.

So, this is how conversations take place when applying for access to public information. You can send as many requests as you like, for the most part you will get it late (the legal deadline is 30 days), incomplete, inaccurate and ultimately almost unusable. Although research work should have some kind of positive impact, you are ultimately ending up with your personal data shared with the cause of that research at all.

On February 21 this year, news that Ján Kuciak, a reporter from Slovakia and his partner Martina Kušnírová, were killed in their home in Slovakia. Just months before, in October 2017, the investigative journalist from Malta, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was killed.

Both Kuciak and Caruana Galizia investigated corruption. The reporter of aktuality.sk, Kociak revealed a scheme through which European funds were abused in Slovakia. Months earlier, Caruana Galizia's car exploded shortly after she published an article on her blog that accused the Maltese government of corruption and described the situation in the country as desperate.

In Daphne’s case, it's about an already published critical article which is a display of exceptional courage and professionalism to bring out the truth as a journalist. European Parliament President Antonio Tajani confirmed this and said that "the brutal murder of Galizia is a tragic example of a journalist who sacrificed her life to reveal the truth."

However, in the case of jan’s murder, he worked for a secret research and when he was killed, the research was not completed. His colleagues-journalists after his murder wrote about his professionalism and demanded responsibility. But only a month later it was hard to read more than two or three news about how the investigation into the culprits of the murder progressed. Still, when this news was current and journalists were constantly writing about the need to have a system of journalist protection, a tool that's available to everyone proved to be fatal in the case of Jan.

The Law on Access to Public Information is a useful tool to get information. However, although we have obtained this right by law, and the description itself says that it is public, in order to request that information you must provide your name, surname, address, telephone, fax and title of the medium / company / project for which you are requesting this information. This way, the request of journalist Kuciak for access to public but sensitive information has given them the address of residence, where his murder was later executed.

Three weeks after the murder, the European Parliament has developed a discussion about providing stronger guarantees for the protection of personal data of journalists submitting requests through the laws on access to information. The provision of better protection for whistleblowers was also emphasized and requested.

Are they provided? And did anybody continue to treat this topic according to the importance it deserves? In May Pavla Holcova, a Czech journalist who is still investigating the murder of the fellow journalist and his partner, was summoned by the Slovak police for a questioning. Holcova is not a suspect, on the contrary she is one of the few journalists who continued to search for the real culprits for the death of Kociak. However, instead of being interview, she was questioned for eight hours. In addition, before being released, her mobile phone was seized. The prosecutor who signed the order to take her cell phone and access its data was not assigned to the murder case.

Macedonian media stopped reporting on Jan Kuciak’s death and the scandal in Slovakia, nor did they wonder who, after the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, continued to write about the situation in Malta.

On February 21, 2018, when we read about Jan's murder, the Transparency International report was published. According to the report, Macedonia is the most corrupt country in the Balkans and the region, and one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index 2017. Namely, for five years, Macedonia has dropped forty (40) spots on the world scale of the Corruption Perceptions Index and today is ranked 107th out of 180 countries.

Only in 2017, 600,000 citizens in Macedonia were asked for a bribe at least once, and 500,000 bribed at least once. With this, corrupt pressure on citizens increased by 5.8 percent more than in 2016 (data taken from Reflector - data under magnifying glass).

In the same research, Reflector says that 38.5% of citizens build the opinion on corruption based on information received from the media. Well, although out of two million people, a quarter of them have bribed someone else, corruption has not yet been perceived as a critical issue in the past year in our country. The list of problems still at the highest ranked: unemployment; political instability and low incomes. If we look better, all three of these problems are directly related to the high percentage of corruption in our state system, but who wants to admit this?

Even those few articles by journalists, who are seriously doing their jobs and do real research when publishing a story about which they risked their lives, had a lot lower reading percentage compared to news with sensational headlines. If they are even able to publish it.

Macedonia ratified the UN Convention in 2007, thus joining the global fight against corruption. Nowadays, after a long wait, we have started to take steps that lead to taking responsibility by those who have been violating the laws for years. It is not time to praise, but to admit that some of the procedures are late, but they still are a positive step forward.

The title of this column was taken from the discussion "Baldwin versus Whittaker", in which their statements are contradictory. Baldwin says that women are first-rate civil servants (our admiration for the formation of the SPO), while Whittaker says that women are third-class civil servants (the woman from the beginning of the text who did not even want to do what she was paid for and knowingly obstructed the research).

To get back to the point, in the post-referendum North-European Macedonia, with which flag will the MPs vote for in order to protect investigative journalists’ personal data?

Marija Pavleska

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