Shire lodges FOI to get documents from ABC

Talk of the town: The ABC have confirmed an FOI was lodged by the Shire of Esperance to access to correspondence between Shire councillors and journalists. Photo: Jesinta Burton.
Talk of the town: The ABC have confirmed an FOI was lodged by the Shire of Esperance to access to correspondence between Shire councillors and journalists. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

The Shire of Esperance has lodged a Freedom of Information application with the ABC in a bid to obtain correspondence between local journalists and members of council.

Under The Freedom of Information Act 1982, members of the public are able to legally access the documents of government departments and agencies.

The shire has confirmed the application was made in October, 2018, and related to information aired on ABC Goldfields-Esperance.

It is understood the information requested was of a private email conversation between councillors and a Member of Parliament regarding confidential information.

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Acting WA Regional editor Clare Negus said the documents were exempt from disclosure to the council because they were "program material".

Ms Negus confirmed the only information released to the council was the content of three short text messages between Shire of Esperance president Victoria Brown and an ABC Rural Reporter in which they discussed the change of manager at ABC Goldfields-Esperance and the upcoming seeding season.

“The ABC treats Freedom of Information requests seriously and followed due process to identify and review all relevant documents," Ms Negus said.

"All other documents in scope of this request were found to be program material, and they were therefore exempt from the operation of the FOI Act in relation to the ABC.

"The local ABC Goldfields-Esperance team continues to report on local matters in the interests of our audience."

Shire of Esperance chief executive officer Matthew Scott said submitting the application was not the preferred approach, but the shire felt compelled to act.

"Every member of the public, including local government representatives, should expect a level of privacy in their correspondence with elected officials," he said.

"This was not our preferred approach however it was the only option available to us at the time.

"The shire does not provide private information about an individual or organisation to unrelated third parties. This would be a major breach of trust to all community members."

A spokesperson from Australia's journalism union told The Esperance Express it was the responsibility of the media to ensure the protection of confidential sources.

"Journalists are required to protect the identity of confidential sources, as defined under clause 3 of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Journalist Code of Ethics," the spokesperson said.

"Confidential sources shouldn’t communicate via correspondence that could be subject to an FoI request."