Data.Journalism! Conference Vienna, 14.6.2012

The Data.Journalism! conference of the fjum and European Journalism Centre was aimed at journalists and other decision makers interested in the potentials of data journalism for their newsroom and in what an open data operation involves. There was quite a mix of international participants from journalists, researchers and information designers to open data activists.

Afternoon: Some data is available, but some data is not! (panel discussion)

The afternoon presentation presented facts about the situation of a Freedom of Information law or the official law of secrecy „Amtsgeheimnis“ (in an international comparison of Freedom of Information right, Austria comes last). On the other hand, this comparison is based on the legal situation, why Sweden is to be found a bit far behind (the Swedish law does not say much about access, and plenty of things are missing, despite the country being known for an open information culture – so this is a wrong impression). We have to find ways to evaluate and measure transparency in practice. The Wikileaks example showed us that some of these legal decisions do not work and that some information is misclassified.

As Joseph Barth from Amtsgeheimnis.at pointed out, in Austria there is always a problem with exeptions. Looking at several cases, it was pointed out that much information is kept secret (e.g. what the government spent on advertising in Carinthia, or the agenda of the Council of Ministers, which stays a secret for 30 years).

Problems identified in the Austrian context are that the administration is not trained or restrictive laws keep civil servants submissive. Right now there is no Freedom of Information act in Austria – a situation the initiative amtsgeheimnis.at seeks to change.

Friedrich Lindenberg from Open Knowledge Foundation took on the „nerd perspective“, pointing out the importance of open licences (legal factor), raw data publication and easy access in Open Data. Lindenberg is working on the platform openspending, a platform that also aims to make journalistic work more easy. As an example for how a weird type of government works, EU budget data was presented. An overview on Data sources can be found at http://bit.ly/eu-data-sources. In the near future, online courses are planned, e.g. on data literacy.

Thomas Jöchler, who has been working for the official website of Vienna (wien.at) during the last years, asked under which circumstances content can be called data (that can be used for other purposes) and presented a few initiatives and communities pushing for open data (our blog was mentioned! :-)). One background for the realisation of Open Data in Austria was the new government as well as a situation of competition between the cities (e.g. Linz wih the Open Commons region). Another driving factor were technological developments (from smartphones to location based services).

Most data in the Open Government Data catalogue is in German. A couple of people have already produced online maps that can compare with commercial products. Another big heap is coming from statistics, going down to the local level. There is also a fact sheet on the quality of data. Licence issues are still valid (should data be given out for free?). GeoShop is one project. There is a very active community around the data portal, most people coming from a developers background. There are not too many active people from the media community. Messages to the media were: 1. Engage! 2. Request more open data. 3. use the data🙂

Discussion

Adressing the issue of secrecy in a country is not easy – the Spanish Supreme Court recently was not convinced that access to information is a citizen right. Maybe we need to get more aggressive, as compromises in the matter have always been part of the tradition. And what is the correlation of bank secrecy and Freedom of Information? While Switzerland has a Freedom of Information act, it is not very used, and some countries seem to have made a commercial interest of information secrecy. Helen Darbishire pointed out that there are clear correlations between secrecy and serious problems in the economy or corruption.

What we haven’t achieved as a movement in terms of the right of access to information is currency on what kind of information we have a right to of private companies. South Africa has done this by including it in the constitution (we probably have been concentrating so much on requesting information from governments). A concept that is more useful in this context is the one of information monopolies, as it is being introduced by the European Court of Human Rights.

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