Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The role of Governmental websites.

I have always thought that progressive, democratic societies are built upon fundamental ideas such as freedom of speech and the right to a decent education (amongst many others). Considering both of these points makes me think about the internet.

Everyone has the right to write anything they so wish (as I am doing right now) and publish this on the internet, a freedom of speech that is incredibly difficult to restrict. Educationly, the internet has also enlightened many, even with a crappy 28.8k connection one could imagine that access to material (granted some of dubious educational quality) never before available to some has improved vastly. Corporations, NGOs, Universities and National Governments have all used the internet to their advantage, to inform and to educate the general public in whatever way they wish.

There is the problem however of institutional bias. What an NGO and a Corporation say about the same situation could be hugely different. This, I think, is unavoidable and it is up to the reader to decide who they believe. However, should this be the case when it comes down to websites operated by national governments? Should spin be allowed? I think not. I think there is a responsibility on governments, as the bastions of progressive, democratic societies, to provide the 'decent education' as I mentioned above.

Which is why when I recently checked out the Government of Canada's official Climate Change website I was so sorely disappointed. To be fair, you can eventually get to some musings on climate change after following a bunch of links from one government department to anothers website. But I was honestly shocked that one could simply declare an issue as huge as Climate Change a closed book, one that this government has decided simply to not provide any easily accessible information on. Could you imagine if they decided to not provide any information on HIV/Aids or simply had a page for a website instructing the reader that the site is 'temporarily unavailable'?

Perhaps there is no responsibility on any government to provide free and accessible information on any issue. One could argue with the reams of information on everyone elses website that this would be pointless. Perhaps that is what institutions like the UN are for, but at least, if you have an official page on an issue, maybe it should have a link to that institution?

It's a thinker...

2 comments:

Roy said...

that is a comedic holding page. If you're going to put that up why not put up more info?

I don't really know what government websites should do about providing information on climate change. Certainly they should provide unbiased access to information on issues that affect us directly, such as health and the environment but I recognise that there is a limit to how much of a resource can be provided, especially on a topic such as climate change that has so much discussion on the web. I don't think my first stop instinctively for unbiased info would be a government site, but the old wikipedia. Maybe they should just link there, to be democratic about it..

Gareth said...

Really wikipedia?? I think it would have to be referred to a peer-reviewed website.
I guess the thing that got my goat was the lack of info on an 'official' page. Theyd have been better off just deleting the page in entirety. Who runs the NHS 24 website? Surely that has to be unbiased, so when does it become acceptable for politics to become embroiled in information access??