Bill Zuill, Editor of the Royal Gazette spoke to the club on Freedom of Information.  We live in challenging times. Around the world, terrorists think nothing of commandeering airplanes and using them as weapons, or detonating bombs in subways.
 

The worlds sole superpower and our major neighbour remains enmeshed in an unpopular war while its economy teeters on the verge of recession.  At home we face complicated questions involving the economy, health insurance and health care, pension policy, education, housing, the environment, climate change and a host of other issue.  In times like these, we need the best possible information guide to our decision-making.   As citizens, you take all the information available to you, analyse it against your values and make decisions about how you wish to be governed.

      Open Government works. Open government provides a check on authorities that would otherwise take decisions without public consultation or involvement.  Despite the clear benefits to the public that flow from the principles of open government and free information, we often hear heartfelt arguments in favour of restricting access to information.  In Bermuda too, the press, and The Royal Gazette in particular is under attack.  Efforts to reduce our revenues are already underway, while the Government wants to pass legislation to institute a Press Council, although it says it would be self regulating.  Even a seemingly inarguable idea like freedom of information comes under attack for no better reason than that it is backed by this newspaper, and not because of the merit or lack of merit of the idea.  That is why enshrining access to information in law is so important.  When a government declares war on a newspaper because it does no like its editorial position, then it becomes even more important for individuals to have untrammeled access to information.

      We are not alone in this. In a recent survey of Americans by the FirstAmendmentCenter, nearly half of the respondents said there is too little access to government records. They want full access to health inspection records of local restaurants and the transcripts of city council meetings. Americans are concerned about privacy and about national security, but at heart, they want access and knowledge. And that is a country that has a freedom of information act. In Bermuda we can't even get the minutes of Corporation of Hamilton meetings.  Americans understand that democracy depends upon freedom of information. I believe that Bermudians do too. 

 

Remember that these are really YOUR rights. Not mine. Not my newspaper's. 

 

As Paul McMasters of the Freedom Forum said: "Freedom and independence for the press is not a special privilege for journalists. It is a special protection for the people."