Cross border access gets prestigious award
Wobbing, or request for access, in a neighbouring country helped award winning Danish journalist topple minister.
When Danish minister of integration Birthe Rønn Hornbech (Liberal) was forced to resign last year importent parts of her political destiny had been written by reporters Ulrik Dahlin and Anton Geist at the Danish daily newspaper Information. They based their research on numerous requests for access of information.
Dahlin and Geist now rewarded with the prestigious Danish Cavling prize showed in close to 100 articles how Rønn Hornbech actively denied palestinians and other stateless people born in Denmark their right to obtain Danish citizenship.
This right follows from a UN-convention which Denmark had signed but did not imply properly in nearly 500 cases, the two reporters claimed.
During a critical phase in their reporting Dahlin and Geist asked for access from the Swedish authorities in order to find out if, and when, the Nordic ministers had informed each other on how to interpret the convention.
”We took a chance, and got a positive cultural chock. The Swedish ministry excused for not being able to answer immediately and then returned the day after. They never asked us who we were or our purpose,” Anton Gleist, says and adds:
”Later we found out that the Swedes were given the factual information from the Danish ministry and then passed it on to us. But the Danes only came up with an answer weeks later. It was groteque.”
A bit later also the Norwegians and the Finns provided the Danish reporters with information they were not given at home.
The reporters could thus demonstrate that the Danish minister had known how differently the other Nordic countries interpreted the very same convention, more than a year before she confessed to a committee at the Danish parliament.
This information became crucial for Birthe Rønn Hornbech's forced resignation from the government.
The articles by Dahlin and Geist also led to the set up of an investigative committee to establish why, and how, the ministry of integration failed to comply with the UN-convention and possible with Danish law.
Anton Geist says he's happy to have experienced how cross border wobbing – or FOI-requests – can be a useful tool.
”It should also be noted that many of the request we successfully made in Denmark would not have been possible should a proposed new access law had been in force. According to the proposal a whole category of documents related to ”service to members of government” might be excluded in the future”, he says.
The proposal for a new legislation has been heavily criticised by journalists.
The new centre-left government which came to power in November has indicated that the proposal for a revised access law for the moment has been put in a drawer and will not be dealt with until September this year.