Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Today in press freedom

Q: What could be a healthier sign of the democratizing power of new media than a plug-in meant to "replace the maddening face of Tony Abbott with cute little kittens"?
A: A Freedom of Information request for correspondence about "Stop Tony Meow" within the prime minister's office!

Give us the rundown there, Sydney Morning Herald:

Staff at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have used up more than 130 pages of correspondence talking about a web plug-in that replaces pictures of Tony Abbott with ‘‘cute kittens’’.

But after charging the program’s creator $700 for access to those pages, what they actually said is a mystery, for now.


Developers Dan Nolan and Ben Taylor made the "Stop Tony Meow" browser extension in January. Downloaded more than 50,000 times, it automatically swaps any picture of Mr Abbott encountered online with pictures of cats.


"Much nicer," as the Stop Tony Meow page points out.

Curious as to what the Prime Minister and his staff thought of the extension, Mr Nolan submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for any correspondence that mentioned the words "Stop Tony Meow".


‘‘There was an issue where the Liberal party website and other sites were slightly modified so the extension didn’t apply there,’’ Mr Nolan said.

‘‘I had a gut feeling that maybe someone had sent an email internally saying that we need to stop this thing from working on our site, what can we do?

‘‘I don’t think there’s going to be any high-level stuff ... but it would be really interesting to see how a government department reacts to these weird new kinds of technology and culture jamming stuff, which previously they wouldn’t have had to deal with.’’

However once the Department had approved the release of 137 pages of correspondence relating to the Stop Tony Meow request, it charged Mr Nolan $720.30 in fees for access.

Broken down, that was $82.80 for "search and retrieval", $13.70 for photocopies and $623.80 for "decision-making time" - 36.19 hours at $20 per hour (with the first five hours free of charge as dictated by the FOI legislation).

‘‘It seems like someone has taken an exceptionally long time to make a decision,’’ Mr Nolan said.
 


Yes. Yes, it does, doesn't it?

If you had to design a political communication system from scratch, which would you rather have: a plug-in that replaces political elites with kittens, or another column by George F. Will?

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