On May 13, 2010, some news organizations reported on the annual audit of Canadians' access to government-held information conducted by the Canadian Newspaper Association. In particular, the Montreal Gazette published a full article written by the Toronto Star reporter Robert Cribb (and also published in the Toronto Star on May 15) that omits to present our full response to the reporter and some important elements of context. Without this information, it is simply impossible for readers to fully understand the issue. Here is CBC/Radio-Canada’s perspective.
The reporter Robert Cribb writes: “Getting a list of publicly funded contracts from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. will cost you $20,825.” He then goes on to write: “The typical government rationale for high fee assessments - reaching into tens of thousands of dollars - was the work required to compile the records. ‘The nature of the request was very broad given the fact that CBC/Radio-Canada has an annual budget of $1.7 billion with operations across the country and abroad,’ said CBC spokesperson Marco Dubé in response to the crown corporation's $20,825 fee for a listing of publicly funded contracts.”
Mr. Cribb never explicitly indicates what the initial request made to CBC/Radio-Canada was. Here it is: “I would like to access to an electronic list of all Canada Broadcasting Corporation contracts, for goods or services, with a value of less than $10,000 for the 2008-2009 fiscal year and 2009-2010 to date. Please provide in Excel spreadsheet or similar format.”
CBC/Radio-Canada responded immediately to the requestor to let him/her know that such a broad and sweeping request would potentially cover thousands of individual contracts requiring significant amounts of search time by employees, which would incur significant costs in staff time. CBC/Radio-Canada ATIP office invited the requestor to be more specific in hopes of reducing the search time required and its associated costs. Our suggestion was dismissed without explanation. This was also explained to Mr. Cribb, but is not mentioned in his article.
Without clarifying these facts and elements of context, the reporter presented to the readers an incomplete and misleading report on CBC/Radio-Canada’s response to Access to information requests.