Political Expenses and Data Journalism

This is a presentation I gave in RTÉ late last year to the Hacks/Hackers group about building databases of political expenses and the challenges of trying to put all of that material together in one place for the first time.

You can see the slides here

These were the key challenges faced with such a project, the types of issues anybody interested in data journalism would be familiar with:

  • Information published month to month in PDFs and inconsistently formatted.
  • Many categories of expenses were not available publicly: mobile phone purchases, constituency office grants etc.
  • Salaries and allowances for certain positions were not routinely published.
  • Material provided across a dozen or more different spreadsheets and broken down year by year.
  • Some of original material had errors and updated versions were later sent.
  • Wide variation in data provided, its formatting, even spelling of names (particularly Irish variants & O’/Mc names)
  • Apparent errors in the data. These would have to be checked by phone for clarification.
  • Known unknowns in the data. For some allowances, not all TDs and Senators took them. Under FoI legislation, this ‘gifting’ is considered exempt. However, the money is listed as if it had been paid.

It raises an interesting question about material that is provided under Freedom of Information legislation, which then turns out to be wrong.

Is there the possibility of defamation if media organisations – in good faith – republish official information that turns out to be incorrect?

Not aware of it having happened yet … but it is probably just a matter of time.

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