25 March 2010

How to Catch a Slippery Eel

On 25 March 2010 at 16h00 at the 10th Floor of University Corner, the University of Witwatersrand (Wits Journalism) played host to a discussion between Gabriella Razzano of SAHA, Ben Leapman of the UK Sunday Telegraph, Alison Tilley of ODAC and Jonathan Klaaren of Wits Law School.

The talk, which was well attended, started with an enlightening description by Ben Leapman as to how the media in the United Kingdom have been using their access to information laws. Through consistent and persistent utility, their Act has turned into a powerful tool for investigative journalists. Ben Leapman himself was able to use the Act to expose the ‘Expenses Scandal' which rocked the United Kingdom Parliament and was also was one of the most profitable long-running stories the Telegraph has run.

The discussions that followed between the South African panellists were informative and vibrant. What became clear is that, regardless of the media's hesitancy to use the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (PAIA), it can be an incredibly powerful means of investigating. Timelines have been overstated and there is a real need for media and journalists to start exploring the use of PAIA. It is hoped that the refreshed relationship between SAHA and Wits Journalism School will assist journalists in pushing forward the use of PAIA in South Africa.