Media professionals in Skopje trained to better access information

In the context of the South East Europe Media Forum, Access Info Europe and UNESCO held its 6th Legal Leaks training seminar in the South East Europe region in collaboration with the Macedonian Institute for Media.

The local version of the Legal Leaks Toolkit, a guide for journalists on how to access public information, was presented and distributed to the participants of the training. The toolkit, written by Access Info Europe and n-ost, has been adapted to legal framework of the FYR Macedonia by the Centre for Civil Communications.

The training took place in Skopje on 16 October 2014. The first session, led by Victoria Anderica, analysed the definition and scope of the right to access information from a national and international perspective. Anderica presented five tips that journalists should take into account when accessing information, particularly the importance of understanding exceptions to the law, being aware of the time frames of the authorities and not being afraid of requesting sensitive information.

During the second session, given by Helen Darbishire, journalists were advised on how to request information from the European Union. Darbishire also informed journalists on ways of requesting information from foreign countries or from the EU when they are not able to obtain information from their home countries.

When explaining the reasons, journalists should use access to information laws, Darbishire mentioned that “access to information can be an investment for your future, the information you request now can turn into a big stories in a few months’ time”.

She added that requesting and reporting is also a way of defending the right: “by putting FOI [freedom of information] stories in the media, journalists are reminding the public and the other journalists the importance of the right of access to information and its link to freedom of expression.”

The final session was conducted by Gavin Sheridan who presented a series of high profile stories written in Ireland using information obtained via FOI requests. He explained how to prepare a request, how to know what information one needs to ask, and how to get to know the system, including how information is stored by public bodies.

“The better you know the bureaucracy, the more precise your requests for information can be, and the better chance you have to get an answer,” commented Sheridan. This session was also an opportunity for the participating journalists to learn about specific existing online programming for analysing data.

The Legal Leaks training took place in the framework of the EU-funded project “Media Accountability in South East Europe”.