Access to government information has become a major issue in recent months, with several press freedom organizations finding that, despite a law providing for such access, Canadians are facing challenges when trying to get information in a complete and timely manner from various levels of government. Newspapers Canada, a joint initiative of the Canadian Newspaper Association and the Canadian Community Newspapers Association, found in its sixth annual National Freedom of Information Audit that the press and the public are having less than desired access to what they say should be public information. The survey showed that while the Access to Information Act requires federal institutions to provide responses to requests for information within 30 business days, those made recently by an audit team representing Canada’s newspapers received only 61% compliance by the relevant government departments. There was similar lack of action by provincial and municipal entities. Another organization, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) also reported on the issue, saying in its 2010/2011 Report Card on the state of freedom of expression in Canada that it had found that “government secrecy has worsened in recent months,” with longer delays in responding to information requests and a dramatic decline in requesters receiving all the information they sought. “Access to government information is not working for Canadian citizens,” CJFE Board member and journalist Bob Carty declared. Then on September 28 – International Right to Know Day – release of a joint study conducted by the Centre for Law and Democracy in Canada and the Spain-based Access Info Europe showed Canada ranked 42nd among 89 countries with right to information laws. The study evaluated each country’s right to information legal framework in a number of specific categories. “It is clear that although some government information is openly available to Canadians, a significant amount is not,” the study concluded. It noted that Canada’s Access to Information Act had not been updated since it was created in 1989. In its latest index of press freedom in the world the international non-governmental organization Freedom House ranked Canada in 26th place among 186 countries, saying that the media in this country face constraints but these are rather limited by international standards. The Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom at its annual gala in May presented its Press Freedom Award to Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto-based center that investigates digital spying and has developed software to circumvent censorship. The annual award goes to a Canadian person or group that has defended or advanced the cause of freedom of expression. In another development, the government of Quebec province announced it would be holding public meetings for discussion of its proposal to create legislation that would define who is a professional journalist. The intent would be to “distinguish those dedicated to ‘serving the public interest’ from ‘amateur bloggers.’” The National Post newspaper, calling the proposal “alarming,” said citizen journalists should be “encouraged, not chilled.” In August Elections Canada, the independent body that oversees national elections in Canada, was reported to have urged the federal government to reform a 73-year-old law banning transmission of news, opinions and results of polling before all the polls in the country close. In this year’s May 2 federal election a number of news organizations were understood to have ignored the law by using such social media as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to share results across the nation before polling stations closed in all of the six time zones. Earlier this year a study by the Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC) at the University of British Columbia found that such social networks as Facebook and Twitter were transforming how Canadians get the news, although only 25% of those surveyed said they felt social media were reliable, compared to 90% for traditional media. Canada’s largest newspaper publishing company, Sun Media, announced it was withdrawing its 27 titles, including the Toronto Sun, from the Ontario Press Council (OPC), charging that the watchdog organization had a “politically correct mentality.” Said a Sun Media spokesman: “The editorial direction of our newspapers, especially our tabloids, is incompatible with a politically correct mentality that informs OPC thinking in the selection of cases it hears and the rulings it renders.” The Toronto Star had recently been criticized by the OPC for its decision to publish a photo of Prince William’s wife, Kate, at the moment a gust of wind lifted her dress. The head of investigative journalism at Montreal-based Radio Canada, the French-language network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Pierre Sormany, was suspended after he posted what were called false statements on Facebook implicating political columnist and former federal cabinet minister Jean Lapierre in an investigation into organized crime. Lapierre is suing for damages over what he called the “false and defamatory” statements. In a statement Radio Canada said Sormany had “made personal comments on a Facebook page about a hot news topic, violating the journalistic standards and practices of Radio Canada.”