The press assault on public service websites

6 07 2010

There is an unseemly clamour just now to claim how much our governmental websites cost the taxpayer. What started out with a pledge from the coalition to reduce government spending on websites by 75% has been taken up by the media, with the Guardian publishing 2 stories in the last day insinuating that publicly-run websites offer poor value for money.

Perhaps the Guardian is envious of the BBC position, whereby it can spend TV licensepayers’ money on a digital service meant to benefit everyone. I have sympathy with that viewpoint, as the Guardian offers an excellent digital service that offers very little return to its creators, if any. While the press look on at the experiment of The Times in asking readers to pay for content with interest, they face rapidly declining sales of paper copy and ad revenue.

What the press and the coalition government aren’t saying, is how they expect the citizens of this country to get open access to information without spending money on quality digital content. Freedom of Information requests already cost the taxpayer a fortune, this amount would only increase if the means of proactive publication of information are reduced, and the web offers the best resource for such actions. That’s not to mention the increased cost and environmental damage that more paper-based information releases would cause.

The future of government engagement is digital, I just hope that this isn’t compromised.

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