The long grind of the information battle. Result: What SA’s top civil servants earn

Over the last six months or so since I joined the Media24 Investigations team I’ve been pushing for us to really get active on access to information applications and last weekend one of our most ambitious projects came to fruition as we published the salaries of most of South Africa’s directors-general, the country’s top civil servants. (Stories in Afrikaans in Rapport here and also in City Press)
An earlier access to information request involved us fighting for information around the SA’s national matric examination mark adjustments.
The information in our most recent project involving the DGs salaries came after many months of work in hassling dozens of government departments to respond to our access to information request – even though the Promotion of Access to Information law clearly sets out how this process is supposed to unfold.
Now, for reporters in Western democracies the idea of having to file access to information applications to get details of civil servants’ salaries would probably seem crazy as this kind of information would, you would imagine, be freely available.
But would it? Our own campaign was in itself inspired by the amazing Bureau for Investigative Journalism project in the United Kingdom which produced a series of stories on the back of literally thousands and thousands of access to information applications.
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Our bite of Wikileaks’ treasure trove of US diplomatic cables

When Wikileaks started making noises about releasing 250,000 US diplomatic cables from around the world, I was immediately fascinated. I have a long-standing interest in diplomacy and how government’s interact with each other behind the scenes after studying International Relations for a spell while working in London and working for a short while as a diplomatic correspondent for the Sunday Times in Pretoria on my return from London.

The Wikileaks stash promised to be a treasure trove of stories and insight into such affairs.

Of course, there was also the promise of some really fascinating stories about South Africa as US diplomatic missions have been active and intimate with South Africa’s affairs for decades. Continue reading