Here are several speculations on the public’s “disinterest” in the ATIPPA hearings.
• Not knowing what ATIPPA means or how ATIPPA became www.parcnl.ca.
Large organizational systems are accustomed to using acronyms, the press and broadcasters adopt them and casual readers/listeners/viewers see and hear gobbledygook.
• Many do not know why an Act is important and how it will affect their lives and will not until the abstractions becomes lived experience.
Few “ordinary” citizens of the province (people whose professional interest or employment/income are not aligned with governance) know the technical mechanisms of governance; how a philosophy or a set of beliefs of political parties may become law if in power, that an act is a process for making laws, or how policy, regulations and practice flow from acts.
• Media literacy programs in Newfoundland schools do not devote enough time and attention to the tight intricate relationship between media and democracy.
They appear not to understand the gulf between critical thinking skills and critical pedagogy.
• The new economics of journalism and media.
All media in the province rely more and more on received messages from government crafted to be obscure by skilled and specialty professionals who deliver the messages straight to the desks/computers of media representatives in the form of press releases and press kits, or stage-managed “public announcements.”
• Efficient time management by citizens.
Ordinary citizens who have asked for innocuous and simple information from government have experienced interminable delays and are aware that little can be expected without persistent, time-consuming followup, time that is not available without associated costs of other kinds. The new need to fill out forms and pay a fee to ATIPPA offices throws up perceptual barriers that all is for naught.
• Discouragement and misinformation.
The most elemental aspect of access — contact information (such as phone numbers and email addresses even on government websites) — is often out of date, unanswered or answered by people who treat the question with the utmost suspicion, do not know the answer and do not know how to get the answer. It’s quite possible to send emails or leave voicemail for civil servants and bureaucrats who have moved to new positions, with no one manning their former contact information point or even employees no longer employed by government at all.
• The public nature of the review process currently underway.
The rationale for a public review is self-evident, but some citizens are without the aptitude or time for submissions as sophisticated as those of early submitters/professionals (i.e. not ordinary citizens) were. Some citizens can speak volumes about a specific instance or problem they have encountered but would not choose to make their private lives available for public viewing/reading/knowledge, and are simply afraid to go public with the specifics details of non-responders (names, times, etc.).
As one of only three parties from rural Newfoundland who expressed interest in making a submission, I can unequivocally say the Wells-chaired panel treated my interest with the utmost respect.
Their respect extended to more than one effort to make that submission possible in spite of practical constraints arising from my family and personal responsibilities.
Hence, my letter today is a critique of a social concern (lack of participation) that concerns me as much as it does the panel, and is not a criticism of the panel.