Should FOI requests be released to all media at the same time?

BC Ferries recently fell under provincial Freedom of Information law. Now, the company’s site promises to release information “to those interested when
records are made available to a requestor.”

The Harper government shut down the CAIRNS database of access to information requests in 2008, meaning that journalists could no longer see which information had been requested (and which had been released). 

At first glance, BC Ferries’ new policy seems like a step toward greater transparency. But The Association of
Electronic Journalists (RTNDA)
thinks this is a sign of a dangerous
trend that could actually have the opposite effect and may “diminish the diversity” of media voices, the organization notes in a press release:

“Journalists who currently go through the often lengthy and expensive FOI process for an exclusive story would be less likely to pursue such information if it is distributed immediately to everyone – including competing journalists. Why would the freelance journalist, or weekly program or publication pursue a story at great expense that all media, including those with hourly deadlines, can access all at once?”

RTNDA Canada President Andy LeBlanc said in the release that “We urge the BC government to consider delaying the release of FOI responses on websites a week or two after the initiating journalist has received it. Better yet, make such information available to everyone immediately, on a continuous basis, eliminating the need for Freedom of Information requests. That would be transparency.”